The Normandy American Cemetary and war memorial was sobering, to say the least. Situated on the hilltop overlooking Omaha Beach, it's the final resting place for approximately 9,300 American servicemen and women who fought and did to liberate France and fight the Nazis. We sang a memorial ceremony, and did a wreath laying, on the monument's steps, looking out at the reflecting pool, gravestones, and chapel. After the short performance, Col. Chuck Butler (res.) and Jennifer Fogle (whose son is on active duty) laid the wreath, some poems were recited, and "Taps" was played. It was an extremely emotional time.
It's easy to look at a major battle or series of battles and throw out numbers: 50,000 soldiers lost, or 150,000 injured, or something like that. We don't really take that to heart; it's a big number, but there is no real way to comprehend it. The guides in this cemetary and memorial do a great job of humanizing it. Anthony, our guide, told the stories of some of the missing and deceased soldier.
John S was felled by a sniper rifle on July 12, 1944, and fell into a ravine. In the heat of battle, his colleagues were unable to recover his body, and when they went back three days later, the body was gone. Fast forward fifty years, and in a nearby town, they were excavating land to build a new housing development when they came across a skeleton. Turns out, he was dragged away and robbed, and the thieves took everything except for his dog tags. His body was identified and interred at Arlington National Ceremony, and his entry on the wall of missing soldiers was modified with a brass flower.
A lady was given the telegram that said that her husband was killed in action. Forty-five minutes later, she received a second telegram, telling her that her son was killed in action. All families gave some, some families gave all.
We saw the resting place of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and his brother, Quentin. Quentin was killed in a dogfight (he was a pilot) in World War I; he was reinterred next to his brother at the request of the remaining brother in 1956. Theo Roosevelt Jr was 59 when he was part of the first wave of the Normandy invasion. Anthony, our guide, told the story that he had a handgun, a walking stick, and a hip flask. When he encountered a soldier who was having a crisis of faith, he would apparently give them a sip from the hip flask and send them on their way with the back end of the walking stick. This story was told to Anthony by a man who was on Omaha Beach during the invasion and said that he witnessed it; I hope that it's a true story.
On our way out of the visitor's center, we met a group of veterans who were Scotsmen. Since we were in a patriotic mood, we decided to sing for them. I picked "We'll Meet Again," which was a World War II era song, made famous by the English singer, Vera Lynn. In the Sweet Adelines world, that's a regional song - kind of a standard song that everybody is supposed to know. It's also the regional song that fewest people know and fewer still like. However, it's perfectly appropriate for the trip.
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