Recently, my dear wife and I were privileged to visit the Normandy region of France with our family. While it’s difficult to contemplate a time when this richly beautiful French countryside was ravaged by the horrors of war, obvious scars remain, continuing to be overtaken by the slow yet restorative power of nature. Former gun turrets are being transformed into sunken wildflower gardens. Crumbling cliff bunkers host nesting seabirds.

A woman holds a bouquet of roses June 6, 2022, during ceremonies marking the 78th anniversary of D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial of Colleville-sur-Mer, France, overlooking Omaha Beach. Jeremias Gonzalez/Associated Press, file

During our stay, we were honored to be able to visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. Our first purpose was to visit the grave of an uncle who I never knew. His name was Glenn. Glenn died in battle in the liberation of France in August 1944. He was 23 years old.

Arriving at the cemetery, we inquired about my uncle’s headstone location. Upon learning that we were family members, an offer was made that an attendant would escort us to the gravesite. We accepted this gracious offer, and we were accompanied by our French host to Glenn’s white marble headstone. Our attendant brought with him a small pail that he explained contained moist sand from Omaha Beach and, with the eager help of our granddaughters, rubbed the sand into the relief letters of the headstone carvings – accenting Glenn’s name and service details in the golden glow of the applied sand against the white marble. A thankful, formal tribute to Glenn’s heroism and sacrifice was read out in the name of the grateful citizens of France. We were presented with a resume of Glenn’s service and a photograph of him in his flight gear.

Our granddaughters placed American and French flags at the base of Glenn’s headstone. During the quiet moments of silent contemplation that followed, the sun broke through the clouds while our 5-year-old granddaughter picked small yellow daisies from the lush, green grass. Standing amidst the vast array of 9,387 gleaming white, sun-soaked headstones against a backdrop of spring green and vivid ocean blue was truly a humbling experience. These men and woman of unconditional service paid the ultimate price for the preservation of liberty.

During our time in Normandy, we came to understand that several European nations would hold liberation remembrance days. As our nation approaches its own Memorial Day, may we also remember. Remembering with sincere appreciation that these brave souls, and many more, pushed back. They would not tolerate white supremacy and genocide. They would not tolerate authoritarian rule and fascism. They would not tolerate existential hate and evil. They pushed back against totalitarianism and secured the bedrock principles and values of liberty and freedom for all.

On the sands of Normandy below the cemetery stands a soaring sculpture. Its gleaming silver sails stretch westward towards the English Channel. One can walk up and touch it, stand in its shadows. People linger there. They read the placard and scan the sandy beaches and the bordering headland cliffs, trying to imagine.

Looking up from the sculpture to the cemetery above, a somber yet heartfelt tear of profound gratitude rose as we watched our granddaughters run, laugh and play in carefree, joyful freedom on the golden sands of Omaha Beach.

Thank you, brave ones, all. Thank you, Glenn, as the teardrop falls.

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