“He died for us” Inscription Inspires Student—Mary Posman, International Experience 2007
He died for us*, the thought circled constantly in my mind as I walked the silent beach. The cool ocean breeze whipped my hair across my face as I turned to look back at the four veterans who were climbing down the stairs to the beach. What did they see as their gaze swept the beach? American landing crafts, German artillery, the haze of pain and confusion that covered Omaha Beach that day over 63 years ago?
He died for us. The sentiment we hear so often finally became real to me as I walked down the beach, my footsteps vanishing in the rising tide. Turning towards the sea, I closed my eyes to the cold, salty wind and imagined. In my mind’s eye I saw hundreds of thousands of American troops preparing to land, scared, young men far from home, many of whom would never return. Those men, men like my grandfather, like the veterans who stood behind me in quiet contemplation, anonymous, young men who were prepared to sacrifice everything for freedom. The freedom of people they would never meet, people like me.
He died for us. While the freedom that they fought for remains intact, somehow their actions become less real. WWII is such an important event in American history that at times it feels like a distant dream. It is a symbol of all that is good about American ideology, so much so that it can almost feel like the ultimate American action movie. The young, good-looking action hero is played by the anonymous American GIs, who are locked in a fierce battle with the malicious, brutal villain, the Nazi army. The fate and freedom of the world lies in the outcome of this battle, the ultimate battle of good versus evil. Like all good action movies, the hero defeats the villain, making the world safe and free.
He died for us. Going to Normandy, accompanied by veterans who landed and fought there, forced me to truly comprehend the reality of what they had done, allowing me to see beyond the sensationalized portrayals of war. It was only then that I realized that these men were heroes because they are not, and never were, action heroes. They were just ordinary young men serving when needed and somehow performing the extraordinary.
He died for us. These thoughts kept flowing through my mind as I walked along the beach with the veterans. With every step along the beach, the veterans grew quieter, as memories flooded their thoughts. I once again tried to imagine what they were seeing, but all I could summon were scenes that Hollywood had created, so I turned from the veterans and left them to their thoughts.
With my back to the warm morning sun, I surveyed the smooth sand that had replaced my footprints; the beach was clear, calm, and peaceful. In a few hours it would become crowded with loving families with running, laughing children. As the scene progressed in my mind, I smiled sadly because I finally understood what that laughter had cost. “He” had enabled this possibility, the anonymous foot solider who had sacrificed everything for our freedom. He died for us.
* This was engraved on a headstone in the British Cemetery in Caen. It was J.P. Harding’s marker and he was only 19 years old when he died on June 6, 1944.
Originally published in Amitié, the newsletter of Normandy Allies.
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