This is a piece of personal history I first published just after it happened in the summer of 2010. I thought it was fitting for today as I sat around with my extended family this morning, dwelling on the freedoms that we enjoy, all at the hands of countless men and women I will never meet this side of heaven.
Happy July 4th everyone. Born free, stay free.
Normandy was our direction, and Omaha Beach, our destination.
To say it’s a historically significant locale would be an understatement. Abounding with monuments, museums, and restaurants like “The D-Day Hotel,” one gets the impression that the boys that laid their lives down nearly 65 years ago would never have imagined we’d be dining on the beach they bled over. But as I waxed melodramatic, my dad–son of a WWII Marine Corps Col.–spoke aptly as he ate his steak: “They’re saying, ‘you better dig in boys; this one’s on us’.”
After wandering the sands of Omaha Beach, we drove up to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. I can honestly say it’s one of the three most sobering locations I have ever been to on the planet, paired with both Pearl Harbor and Auschwitz.
The biggest surprise, however, was receiving the honor of a lifetime. While walking the hushed pathways through the manicured gardens, a strong American voice behind me asked, “So where are you boys from?”
Without so much as turning around I said, “New York.” It’s not often you here a strong US accent in France, so meeting a fellow American at this memorial seemed likely.
“Well, would you both like to retire the colors?”
As my dad and I turned around, we both realized we were standing face-to-face with the head curator for the national cemetery. I think a “yes” came out of my mouth, but I really don’t remember. In fact, I think I was floating up the rest of the walkway, turning up to the two flagpoles with thousands of crosses now in view; and further, my knees weak as we stood for the lowering of the flags with the color guard to the playing of taps.
Both my dad and I wept as we folded the two flags, the entire cemetery now freezing at attention, watching two pastors from New York retiring the colors.
I thought of my grandfather and his first landing on numerous Pacific Theater islands.
I thought of the over 4,000 men that gave their lives on D-Day.
I thought of the freedom my children so richly enjoy.
And I thought of the privilege it is to be an American, truly blessed by the Living God.
But more than that, I thought of the anointing that I felt on the grounds. An unexplainable presence of the Lord that, in fact, caught me completely off guard. Only later would I learn the reason.
The pastors who live in the north of France consider Omaha Beach their nation’s greatest revival. “I don’t understand,” I said to Pastor Vincent Fernandez. He went on to explain a little known fact about the Normandy Invasion. In an unprecedented move not replicated in any other moment in the war, the clergy on board the incoming ships–cross denominational, and without regard to theological bias–insisted that each young man give their heart to Christ, knowing that their deaths were imminent.
Not only was there a mass conversion of thousands of young allied forces soldiers on those shores, but the cemetery stands as what the French pastors believe is a cemetery of Christian martyrs, dying for the cause of freedom, and that of Jesus Christ. It was a story I had never heard as an American, but is fairly common among believing Christians in that region. And it is a story I will never forget.