Memorial Day has occupied a place in my heart for as long as I can remember. My family used to attend the Memorial Day Parade in Hackettstown, NJ every year. I remember seeing both of my grandfathers in the parade, as well as my mom's uncle--all World War II veterans. For a child, the parade was thrilling, since there were uniforms and trucks and tanks and so forth, but I couldn't grasp the true meaning of Memorial Day. I also didn't realize how significant the day was given the timeframe--I was a child in the 1970s and the Vietnam War was either still going on or had just ended.
During my first trip to France a few years ago, one of the first things we did was visit Normandy and saw the beaches and the cliffs where so many gave their lives with our own eyes. We also visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. There are 9,387 U.S. servicemen buried there on what is now essentially American soil--France granted the United States a perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery.
This cemetery was originally established on June 8, 1944, the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. The U.S. flag flies over this soil in France. This cemetery is situated overlooking Omaha Beach, perhaps the bloodiest landing site of the Normandy Invasion. I will probably post about the Normandy Invasion on June 6th.
The cemetery is beautiful, but being there is overwhelming. Arlington National Cemetery is overwhelming as well, but that may be due to the sheer numbers buried there. The American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy overwhelmed me in a different way--I'd just walked on Omaha Beach and Point du Hoc like it was just another blustery day, like it was nothing, while 70 years earlier men died taking those beaches and cliffs I strolled on without worry. The thought brought tears to my eyes and thinking on it right now dredged up those memories of visiting Normandy, and again my eyes water.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr. is buried at the cemetery. In 1941, in his early 50s, he returned to active duty and given command of the same infantry regiment he'd fought with in World War I and participated in the North Africa Campaign. At the age of 56, he was the oldest man in the invasion and was the only general on D-Day to land by sea with the first wave, landing on Utah Beach. His son, Quentin, also landed that day among the first wave, but on Omaha Beach. Theodore didn't die during the invasion, but did so a month after landing at Utah Beach.
There is one veteran of World War I buried in this cemetery--Theodore Roosevelt Jr's younger brother, Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, a pilot shot down in France during World War I. He was exhumed from another location in France and re-interred beside his brother.
In closing, while I'm honored people think about me and my service to the country on this day (I was enlisted in the U.S. Navy), Memorial Day is specifically for those who died while serving in the armed forces of the United States.
Don't ever forget what these brave men and women died for--I won't elaborate on that point, but give that some thought, please.