By any physical standards he was an old man. The wrinkles, the stooped shoulders, the eyeglasses that were too big for his drawn-in face, and the baseball-style cap that was too big for his head all gave him away. He sat silently in his wheelchair, high atop a bluff overlooking the ocean. His stare was focused on the horizon. It was as if he were searching for something specific, something tangible, but all he could see was a memory. It was a struggle to control his emotions. He simply sat in silence, the only sounds being the crashing of the waves below and the echoes of his memories.   

The most difficult part of his journey was yet to come. His attendant turned the wheelchair and they headed for the cemetery. As he got closer to his objective the emotions gathered momentum and the memories became more than echoes. This time he was definitely searching for something specific, a certain gravestone, but in this cemetery all the gravestones looked alike. All had white crosses and only the names were different. He found the object of his search and slowly reached for the words carved in stone. He ran his fingers over the name and cried. The last time he had seen his brother was on June 6, 1944, on the sand below, a horror known then as Omaha Beach.

The scenario above has been played out for years as veterans have returned to French soil. This week is the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944. “The long sobs of the violins of Autumn, wounds my heart with a monotonous languor.” This part of  Paul Verlaine’s 19th century poem, Autumn Song,” was the signal to the French Underground that the invasion of Europe was at hand. There is no question about French/American relations with the people of Normandy. American soldiers are still remembered as heroes.

President Trump and other world leaders will gather this week in Normandy for the 75th celebration. Henri-Jean Renaud was 10 years old when he watched the first American paratroopers land during the early hours of that morning near his home in Sainte-Mere-Eglise. He remembers. He has helped veterans for years when they have returned to Normandy. He realizes the importance of the event and honors the sacrifices of those who died. Our soldiers understood freedom because they came from a free country and were determined to keep it that way. They did. Thousands lost their lives preserving it. Those are the ones we must remember.

D-Day veterans come here to remember, and so do their children. By any physical standards he was in pretty good shape. Being a former Green Beret helped. The taut face, the straight back, the still strong arms, the medals on his chest and the beret fitting snugly on his head all gave him away. He stood on the bluff, overlooking Omaha Beach, his stare focused on the horizon. His thoughts were of photos, and dreams of what might have been. He turned and walked toward the cemetery, looking for something specific, a certain gravestone.

He found the object of his search, stopped, and stood silently. He had never met his father. This was the first time he had seen his grave. He ran his fingers over the name on the cross. It reminded him of the friends he had lost in Vietnam. He stood erect. He saluted. He remembered Vietnam. He cried. For most of us freedom will always be a noun. For others, freedom will always be a verb. That’s the sad part about freedom. In order to gain it someone always has to die.

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