On this Memorial Day, I wanted to share some thoughts I’d written last year during my solo Eurotrip when I had visited the D-Day sites in Normandy.
I’ve been seeing quite a few posts on social media by my fellow military veterans of the “no one appreciates Memorial Day!” variety, complaining bitterly that everyone only cares about the three-day weekend and grilling hot dogs while completely forgetting why this holiday weekend exists in the first place. I have to respectfully disagree on a couple of points: one, I sincerely doubt that most civilians have “forgotten” our lost loved ones. And two, I don’t think anyone is being disrespectful by enjoying the weekend.
I could go on a tangent about some of the things that I’ve seen veterans post, but I’ll save the rant for another day. This weekend isn’t about me, or about any of us really. Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring those who gave their lives so that we could live free. The “honoring” part is where I think many have a misunderstanding – are we not honoring our comrades in arms by enjoying the weekend? Would they really prefer that we wallow in bitterness and sorrow the whole time, or would they want us to enjoy the freedom that they fought and died for? Yes, I understand that it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. I’ve lost friends in the Iraq War, too. However, I still believe that I would fall in the second category, and I’d like to think that I’m not alone.
When I visited Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery last year, I remember having the same sentiment, in particular after visiting the museum and listening to one of the commentaries by a father of one of the D-Day soldiers:
From The Skeptical Sailor: Eurotrip, part seven: A real champagne room, a pilgrimage, and more cathedrals
I had wondered why the D-Day sights in Normandy were not among many of the “day trips from Paris” lists I’ve seen. After making the trip myself, I now know why – it’s not easy, nor is it for the casual tourist. Of course I’m glad I went, but I’d been determined to go to the cemetery and was not leaving France until I did…
Anyway, the memorial is beautiful and really well done, and the cemetery speaks for itself.
I shouldn’t have even hesitated to pay the money. It’s really indescribable to stand in a place where so many young men gave their lives in the name of freedom.
Something else that stuck out for me was a father of one of the soldiers from the video they showed in the museum – he mentioned something I had often wondered, how the families of the dead felt about their loved ones being laid to rest so far from home. He’d said that it actually gave him pride to know that his son was buried in the very land he help to save. I love that sentiment, and thought of it again when we were walking on the beach. One of the other Americans with us mentioned that people go sunbathing on Normandy beach during the summer, and how he felt it was a little strange and borderline offensive. I see his point, but after watching the father in the video I also see the flip side: that all these brave men died so that people can enjoy the peace and beauty of Normandy today. By enjoying the beautiful beaches, we are honoring their memory.
Anyway, thank you for reading. This is something that’s been weighing on me for the past few days, for it bothers me to see other veterans trying to shame people for enjoying the weekend. No one is being disrespectful; we all know what this holiday is for, and the sacrifices that our loved ones made so that we can live in the freedom they fought for. We honor the fallen by shedding tears as well as by living in joy.
For anyone who wants to read the full post (which also includes descriptions of my day trips to Reims, Bayeux, Rouen and the Veuve Clicquot Champagne winery) it’s here on my old blog.