Walking the many rows in this cemetery past rows and rows of stones that at first glance all look the same, I was touched by the many different inscriptions that they bore. One: to my
dear husband who died to make this world a better place to live. Husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, but shockingly all were very young. Most of the stones bore ages between 18 and 28 with only a few in their 30’s. Such youth! It’s one thing to read that in a history book in high school when you’re only 16, but quite another when you’re in your 30’s and you can appreciate how short life can be cut.
Entering down into these caverns were thick rusted doors in which men placed their faith of security. Looking inside, you could see charred evidence of flame throwers that had effectively evacuated the premises. Most access points were blocked with debris and rubble cluttering the floor and filling the once used doorways. It’s almost best to distance yourself and try not to think of what this place was like as the destruction occurred early in the morning of June 6, 1944.
It’s all very real to Brian though. He’s always trying to picture what may have been, and
imagine what the soldiers must have gone through and felt as they landed on these beaches. Reared on stories from his Grandfather who fought in this war he always wonders about it. Wonders how these men - boys - could have gone and witnessed such horror and then been expected to return home to life as though everything were OK now. The countless nightmares that must have haunted their sleep.
So many stories of close encounters were told. One time a comrade requested to switch missions, only later to find out that the troop he was supposed to have been with had been obliterated. Another time he was driving an officer around for a lookout through no-mans-land with bombs flying overhead. Stopping by a tree to look, the officer couldn’t see and requested to move further on. Almost immediately after leaving that place a bomb landed there. Another time his tank was actually hit and the blow knocked him out (later he realized it made him loose his sense of smell), but he awoke outside and never knew who pulled him out and rescued him.
I’m sure many have similar stories who’ve been through a war. But many do not as it evidenced by the many cemeteries dedicated to soldiers, airmen, and sailors. We stopped at the American cemetery. It’s a very reverent place with rows and rows of crosses that
stretch past your view. Divided into sectional plots by letter and then rowed by number so loved ones can find the actual stone. 9600 in all - just in this one cemetery. Every one’s death dates within the 80 days of the Normandy siege. June, July and August of 1944. Bells chiming as we walked along from the central memorial. Saw Theodore Roosevelt’s grave, as well as 2 of the brothers who inspired Saving Private Ryan. Robert J. Niland and Preston T. Niland are buried side by side and died on the 6th and 7th of June respectively. A third brother is in a different cemetery, but died on the 5th. All requests for telegrams informing the mother arrived at the clerk’s desk on the same day. They immediately made arrangements to withdraw the last brother and make some new rules that only so many members of one family can serve at the same time.
Seeing the these things made the sacrifice seem much more real. It’s terrible that people feel the need to fight one another, and that many must perish for the cause. Many, many. And some without names. One last image to leave with was the cemetery filled with nameless stones. Only stating: ’soldier of the 1939-1945 war. Know unto God.’
The end seems like a good place to begin. For it’s only at the end that one can take time to reflect on what has been. And it’s at the end of today that some of the most prominent images take place. Ones that set the tone for the rest of the day. Images such as a poppy wreath laid at the foot of a grave. One of 100’s in a cemetery dedicated to the lives that were lost in the second world war. A wreath with a card that read: in memory of my father who I never knew…’