I can still smell the dew evaporating in the rising sun. It was still and quiet except for the birds and the faint lapping of the ocean waves onto the beach below. It was difficult to comprehend a number like 9,387 until I stood on that peaceful, grassy bluff, looked around and could only see endless rows of marble grave-markers.
Every walking step through the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial fortified the realization that each marker represented someone’s spouse, sibling, friend, parent, child. Faces and stories emerged with each engraved name. Suddenly 9,387 began to look infinite but yet incredibly small when compared to the total cost of lives during this war.
While on my roadtrip through France, which brought me to the beaches of Normandy, I stayed off the highways and mostly took the smaller roads. They always wound through the heart of many small villages. From this vantage point, I noticed that all the villages had some prominent memorial to the soldiers who died in World War I. I think it is difficult for Americans to grasp the utter devastation caused by World War I, but it is clearly immortalized in the center of the French life. But it’s not the only war that’s been fought on French soil.
There are plaques about the liberation of villages from the Germans in World War II. Along the sides of the road or within the villages, there are ruins of churches, forts, chateaux who have met some violent fate as a result of war, revolution, or other conflict.
My two weeks of driving in France reminded me how many battles these stretches of earth had seen. How many people have died for their land or beliefs over hundreds, thousands of years but have no marker, monument or commemoration?
So with each ruin, each fort, each marker I passed, I remembered those people who had shed their blood and lost their lives. Even though I never knew them, I remembered them because they, too, were someone’s spouse, sibling, friend, parent, child. I remembered them as human beings. I remembered them as children of God, as we all are.
And then with weighing heart, I took a deep breath and gave thanks.