Tears at the American Cemetery

We chose to stay back at our residence in La Haye - Pesnel on the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2019. We did not want to drive north the hour and a half or so to journey on that day into congested traffic jams, struggle through thousands of visitors, or face the challenges of heightened security for a meeting of two world leaders: President Macron of France, and President Trump of America who came to lead in a globally-viewed program of remembrance. So, ten days later, our little family visited (and for some, re-visited) the Normandy American Cemetery that overlooks Omaha Beach. By this time, the crowds were manageable, the weather was sunny and dry, and our hearts were open to take in what this cemetery represents - grief, gratitude, and a growing resolve that this should never happen again!
American Cemetery, Normandy, France

I knew that it was going to be a difficult experience for me to handle the immensity of grief that this beautiful cemetery represents. I cry more easily these days of my advancing years. I have tried to be a good patriot, but on this day, I was standing on the burial grounds of America's finest examples of patriotism.

9,387 brave members of that epic 1944 military force are buried here in Normandy. Most paid the ultimate sacrifice during the first minutes and hours of the landing at Omaha Beach. They fell during the ascension of impossibly steep and well-fortified cliffs, and during the ensuing operation to advance and push back the enemy. Most in the invasion force that fateful day were young adult men in their mid- twenties. It was a tender, youthful time when they had all of their lives before them. They were sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins in the breadth of their relationships. They gave their lives for the freedom of others.

As I walked throughout the sea of Crosses and Stars of David for the Jewish soldiers, I looked for those who were from Illinois and Texas. While I saw many from these favored states, there were markers from every state in the Union. At one point during our review, Monique motioned me over to take note of a special unmarked monument. This cross simply stated, "Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God." As a part of the memorial area overlooking the reflecting pool and cemetery, there is a garden and a "Walls of the Missing" that honors all those who remain "missing in action" during the conflict. As MIA individuals are identified, their designation on the wall is marked by a special star. We took note of the few stars, less than twenty, among the 1,557 names inscribed on this memorial wall.

"Comrade in arms known but to God"
 How do you express your gratitude for the sacrifice this cemetery represents? We speak often about showing our respect. Removing my cap, I knelt before several headstones and offered a prayer of thanks. This felt right in the moment, but it in no way expresses the depth of my gratitude as an American citizen visiting this historic and hallowed setting. What more could I do or feel in the face of such heroism, patriotism and sacrifice?

We take our freedoms in this country so much for granted that we cannot comprehend what it means to live under such evil tyranny as represented by the German Nazi regime. These brave men courageously and selflessly turned back a nefarious enemy that sought to bring all freedom loving peoples under its control. The sacrifice of these youthful patriots firmly established the place, prosperity and global prestige of our democratic world order!

I pray that this sacrifice for freedom will never again be necessary, but I am a realist. I see conflicts at all corners of our world and it gives me pause to think about how we will go about resolving these. It is too easy to choose to use our military power and might. Instead, I hope we would choose every other option available to us than violence and war. If history teaches us anything, it reminds us of the great price that is often paid for peace and freedom.

I sat in grief looking out to the many crosses and thinking that these deaths were a waste of precious youthful vitality, potential and spirit, but I know better. These deaths counted for freedom! I and every other freedom-loving person on this planet stand in the gratitude of men and women who daily put themselves in harms way and far too often, give their lives defending the freedoms of others. We are continually benefiting from their gift of the ultimate sacrifice.

As a person of faith, I cannot compare this sacrifice to Christ's, but they are related at this point - without such sacrifice, we cannot know freedom! Christ said, "To the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free!'" (John 8:31-32, ESV). Jesus embodies the truth about ultimate freedom from the power and presence of sin. To know Him is to know ultimate freedom both now and for all of eternity!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
grateful patriot.
Contact: drmjkeppler@gmail.com

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