Sunday, May 15, 2016

D-Day: Normandy, France

My son, Peter, last year at age 18, remembering his grandfather and the others who helped to liberate the village of Le Tronquay in Normandy, France.

The plaque that Peter laid the flowers on in Le Tronquay, France. Blog of a French Village Celebration

On June 5, 2015 at Utah Beach, Peter sending a lantern off in memory of his grandpa. Blog about Omaha Beach, 2015   Blog about Utah Beach
On June 6 the Normandy coast in France will be awash with ceremonies, 1940 dances with jitterbug and swing music, banquets, hikes, and paratroopers falling from the sky to remember D-Day. It is a time reserved and set apart to honor the Allied forces that came to liberate the villages and towns that were under German occupation for five years. Nobody is sunbathing on the beaches that week. Thousands will gather to celebrate those soldiers who stepped on the shores or fell from the skies on those fateful days 72 years ago. Not many of the veterans are still alive, but there will be a few being pushed in wheel chairs or even a few walking slowing around the cemeteries and towns. For a week in Normandy, strangers become instantaneous friends. Tears flow freely, and there is a still reverence as you walk on the beaches or cliffs that needs no exchange of words to explain. Whether you are speaking with Germans, French, British, Americans, or Canadians, solidarity and unity exists. Peace reigns. Here is the schedule for the 72nd anniversary of D-Day for 2016

My father-in-law, H. Smith Shumway, at age 22, landed on Omaha Beach on that decisive day with over 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes, and 150,000 servicemen. He was blinded six weeks later in the march to Paris. Blog of "I might not have sight, but I have insight" He lived the remaining 67 years in darkness, living with the scars of a war, but never succumbing to defeat and despair. As a family, we have trekked across the Atlantic Ocean  several times to Normandy to honor him and his comrades. Last year was the first time he was not there with us. However, we felt him as the waves crashed on the shores and the wind blew on the cliffs. As I looked into the people's faces who are descendants of the two villages he liberated, the reverberations of his actions live on in this village. I knew as my son placed the flowers on the plaque that bears his grandfather's name that he could not be too far away.

In the famous U.S. Civil War love letter that is written by Sullivan Bullou at the beginning of the Bull Run Battle, he expresses his love for his wife, perhaps feeling inspired that he would not live to see her again. "But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night--amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours--always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath' or the cool fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again." Normandy, France is that kind of place--holy grounds where young men, both German, French, American, Canadian, and British were laid to rest.

This year we will bring another son, now 22, the same age that his grandpa was when he was blinded and landed on D-Day. Last night as we talked about it, Jonathan was silent for a few moments, taking pause to think about the weight of his grandfather's suffering at his same age 72 years ago. As his mother, I don't know how I could send my handsome, intelligent son off to war. But my husband's grandmother bade farewell--and many millions of others did too. My husband's grandfather did also, even with the memories of World War I and Flanders heavy on his mind. Smith Shumway promised his parents that he would come back from war, "swinging both his legs and arms"--never anticipating the loss of his sight. How could he? But he refused to bend and crumble. Within his darkness, he radiated a light that was undeniable the rest of his life--showing thousands of people that he would live victorious--even with his battle scar. He lived by his own quote, "I might not have sight, but I have insight."

Peter, my son last year in La Vacquerie, one of the two towns Grandpa is remembered for liberating. In the middle is Mitch Quiles, who made the video below, and Bernard Marie, who was 13 years old when the Allies came to Normandy. Mitch made this video to also show the efforts of several people (instigated by my brother-in-law, John Bennion) who have tried to find the body of a man who has been missing for 72 years now named Harry Brown. Their efforts show that there is no cost that is enough to bring back people or bodies from war.
Here is a video by Mitch Quiles that has been in one of the museums in Normandy. It shows my father-in--law being remembered at the cemeteries and village ceremonies. Each time I go to Normandy, there is a major take away: that war is senseless and horrendous, but there is a choice afterwards to make the past bring peace or endless misery. It is through remembering, and teaching each succeeding generation the horror of war.

Normandy, France has chosen to create the first week of June that is sobering, but yet celebratory, humbling, but yet healing. The French people have transformed a scar of history that has assuaged much pain and suffering: through remembering those who gave their lives, the ultimate cost. We must not only remember, but we must strive for peace at all costs--reflecting on the young men, many who had not reached the age of 20, whose dreams were cut short. And for the parents and loved ones, who unlike myself, gave up the aspirations of their son, husband, brother, or friend.

In one German cemetery, La Cambe, in Normandy, there is a poignant reminder to all who enter on a monument that reads: "Gott has das wort" (God has the last word). As I quietly walked around the cemeteries in France, these words were the resounding lesson: "Got has das wort" or "God has the last word." In those four simple words, the German monument begs reflection. There is no judgment or blame, but only reconciliation with the past and hope for the future. As the monument states, God only knows, and He has the last word for all--whether they were our allis or enemies in this life.

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