Every year it seems to be my tradition on Memorial Day to watch the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. It’s a really good view into what it must have been like on D-Day. Every guy likes a good war movie, and who doesn’t like Tom Hanks. He’s always been one of my favorite actors.
My Favorite Scene
As the soldiers storm the beaches of Normandy, I just watch in amazement as one soldier drops and then another. You have to wonder what was going through their minds minutes before they hit the water. What I watch every year is bravery on the highest level. Men ready to lay down their lives for a bigger cause.
The Cliffs Over The Beach
Can you close your eyes for just a minute and imagine climbing up a rope ladder carrying your rifle and ammunition. Think about the weight of your uniform and canteen and the fact that the whole time you are climbing you are being fired on by German machine guns. You would have to constantly dodge falling soldiers who went up the ladder before you that were hit before they made it to the top. I don’t know the exact height of those cliffs, but I would bet they were at least 100 feet high.
If you just happen to make it to the top of the cliff, you’d be taking on rapid machine gun fire coming from concrete bunkers built by the Germans. These bunkers were built into the ground and were made for ease to shoot out while protecting the soldiers inside the bunkers. You had to get close enough to toss in a grenade or spray some fire, which wasn’t an easy task. Our soldiers suffered enormous losses before they could take those bunkers.
I Wanted To See It For Myself
This past October 2015 Dana and I went on our 20th mission trip over seas. We like to stop along the way when we can for some R&R, see the world and get adjusted slowly to the time change. We want to be refreshed and prayed up so we can hit the ground running when we get to our mission destination. Since our connecting flight was in Paris, we decided to spend a couple of days there. We had been to Paris before, but this year Dana, knowing how much I love history, reserved a tour that took a whole day to go see the beaches of Normandy.
A Long Day
We had to get up really early and be at the tour location at 6 am, while it was still dark outside. I had no idea what to expect. Once we checked in, we all loaded up on a tour bus and departed Paris for Normandy. I got to watch the sun rise that day as I looked out of my giant tour bus window and marveled at France’s beautiful countryside. The big city of Paris is so different from the rolling hills of the countryside. I’d love to go back some day and spend more time outside the huge metropolitan area and drive through the French countryside. It was about a 4-hour bus ride, and the whole time I wondered what I would I see that day when we arrived in Normandy. I wondered how I would feel when I got to those beaches and saw them with my own eyes.
The first place they took us to in Normandy was the World War II Museum. That place was amazing. The museum had everything from planes, jeeps, guns, artillery, uniforms, maps of the invasions, Holocaust videos and actual film of court proceedings after the war of Germans accused of war crimes. After lunch, we loaded back on the bus and headed for the beaches.
A Scene I’ll Never Forget
We went to all four beaches that day. Each one had its own historic importance in the outcome of the war. Seeing where American soldiers shed blood with many casualties as they stormed those beaches for the idea of freedom was quite an experience. The next time you catch yourself saying “freedom of religion” or “freedom of speech”, remember that freedom isn’t free. Many men have laid down their lives so we can be free.
All the beaches were interesting to see. The one that really stood out was Omaha Beach. When you walk out to the edge of those towering cliffs and walk into what’s left of those German concrete bunkers you start to get a better idea of what it was like on D-Day. I know we can watch movies and actual war video, but when you stand there and feel that huge ocean wind and smell that salt water and look with your own eyes at how tall those cliffs actually are, it really helps to visualize the events of June 6th, 1944, so many years ago.
Normandy American Cemetery
Our final stop was the cemetery you see in the final scene of “Saving Private Ryan”. All those crosses are lined up perfectly as far as the eye can see. It was a very surreal place on top of those cliffs, everything was perfectly manicured like you were visiting The Masters golf course in Augusta, Georgia. You could still feel that wind and smell that distinct salt air in the breeze. Each cross had the soldier’s name, what outfit he was from and where he lived. There were some grave markers that just read “HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY A COMRADE IN ARMS KNOWN BUT TO GOD”. Most people don’t like cemeteries, but this one was so very peaceful and such an honor to visit.
My Final Thought
As I stood there and stared at someone’s tombstone I did not know, I couldn’t help but think back on the final scene of “Saving Private Ryan”. In that scene a much older Private Ryan finds the tombstone of “Captain Miller” played by Tom Hanks. He says, “I’ve tried to live a good life and be a good person”, a conversation they had as “Captain Miller” died in his arms on that bridge right after he said, “Earn this!” It always, without fail, brings tears to my eyes as I watch that scene. I think I realize now more than ever after visiting the beaches of Normandy that freedom is not free. A lot of men laid down their lives so we can enjoy freedom today. I just hope that I’ve lived a good life, that I’ve been a good person and that I’ve tried to earn what these men paid for with their lives.
May God bless that great generation who fought in World War II and every man and woman who have served and are serving in the military to preserve peace and freedom.