[Editor’s note: This story by David Henderson first appeared in BoomerCafé in summer 2010. June 6, 2012, marks 68 years since Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy in acts of gallantry that changed not only the outcome of World War II but the whole world. On the ridge above Omaha Beach is the U.S. cemetery where thousands of Americans who were killed during the invasion are buried.]
BoomerCafé publisher and co-founder David Henderson has just taken a tour. It started out as a tour of just one field of war, but emotionally, it turned out to be a tour of the full array of wars America has fought since the first baby boomer was conceived. He describes it for BoomerCafé in his “Normandy Journal: The 9,387.”
I am walking in one of the saddest and most peaceful places I know. Before me are the grave markers of fallen American servicemen and women … white marble markers of 9,387 who died during the D-Day invasion and the ensuing battles. The place is the Normandy American Cemetery, above Omaha Beach.
While I am not related to any of the fallen who are resting here, the place has a spiritual draw. I have visited several times over three decades. I believe it is holy ground because of what it stands for.
Couples, families, and individuals walk quietly, respectfully among the graves and along walkways lined with pine trees. Steven Spielberg captured the majesty of this place so well in the reflective opening of scene of “Saving Private Ryan.”
My wife remarks that while their earthly remains are here, their souls long ago left this soil and were welcomed by God and all the angels. I think she’s right.
There are flowers at the foot of the cross for Pvt. Anthony J. Chiappinelli from Rhode Island, who died July 27, 1944. And, a note that tells a story. It reads, “Until we meet Daddy. Love, Anne.”
The fallen lying in rest here were of our parents’ generation. And, America was a very different place then … largely rural and isolated from the rest of the world until the war came along. It was a simpler time.
The invasion at Normandy had very clear purpose – good versus evil – and that purpose galvanized the country. Hitler and his Nazis were evil in every imaginable way. The objective of the invasion was to put an end to the evil, and that was accomplished less than a year later with victory in Europe.
But, has our generation … a baby boomer-led country … learned any lessons? I can’t help but reflect on such things when I visit this place where the world was changed in 1944.
In World War II, America defeated Hitler and the Nazis. Conflicts today are more complex, intentions murky, and agenda-driven initiatives labeled “war on terror.” We invade countries without clear purpose or objectives. We remain in far-off places for years, trying to figure out what we are doing between fighting elusive enemies that always seem to change and helping people who often want us to go home.
A pressing and dangerous threat metastasizes below our border, in Mexico, where drug gangs run rampant. Thousands have been murdered.
At the same time, we run our country to the verge of bankruptcy trying to pay for wars and tax cuts to make rich people happy while bridges rust, the country’s infrastructure ages, politicians play for votes and money and a former standup comedian stands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and urges his followers to “restore America,” code words for its own kind of extremism.
I stand, looking out over Omaha Beach and think about how those honored souls in this cemetery inspired not only a nation but the world for years to come. And, they brought peace, at least for a while. Have we baby boomers done as well?