In Memory

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So much is new, so much has to be learned when you are a newcomer in a foreign land that I forgive myself for ignoring the meaning of Memorial Day when I landed in California.

Many years later, I know that this unusual American three-day weekend is so much more than the unofficial summer kick-off.

I am regularly reminded that my native France owes a lot to the Americans (and other Allies too, of course) who fought and died on its soil.

Always in the most random places.

Last month at Logan Airport in Boston, I accidently bumped into a woman (I walk faster than many people, so sometimes it happens to me…)

I apologized, and of course what was meant to happen happened. She guessed I was French. We started a conversation about France as we washed and dried our hands and continued in the terminal, before walking toward our respective gates.

She knew France well and had in fact been to Normandy, where I grew up, only two years earlier, accompanying a great-uncle to Omaha Beach where he landed in June 1944.

“Was it his first time since D-Day?” I asked.

“Yes, he had always hoped to go back one day,” she said. “He should have done it sooner. He’s the only one still alive from the group of guys he was with that day.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It must have been an emotional and tiring trip for him.”

“He’s in decent shape for his age,” she said. “He remembers everything from that time. He’s almost ninety years old.”

Now, I’m very bad at math. But I got this fact right: he was not yet eighteen years old when he set foot on Omaha Beach.

Call me sentimental, but I was glad she and I had to part ways or I don’t know what I would have done with this tight ball lodged in my throat.

Eighteen. Younger than my son.

Just a few years older than my father, who talked with precision of the sounds and smells of D-Day until he passed away.

So today if we can enjoy a Monday off, on the beach or in our backyard, or even indoors if we live away from the sun, let’s take a moment to remember those for whom Memorial Day was established, whether they fought and died during the Civil War or thousands miles away from their homes.

 

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P.S. In France this weekend was also a moment of commemoration. Yesterday, one hundred years after the terrible battle of Verdun, in 1916, the French president François Hollande and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel met there to honor the French and Germans who lost their lives during a battle that lasted three hundred days, killed 300 000 men, and completely shattered the landscape made of ancestral forests. Despite the initial opposition from the Poilus (the French men who fought during WWI, also called La Grande Guerre) who survived the longest and one of the bloodiest battles in history, millions of trees were planted on the site of the destroyed forest, which is now alive again. But once in a while, an old trench, bones and shells are found. It is said that 80 000 men are still buried under the forest floor. The French German reunion at Verdun symbolizes a strong desire to discuss and build the future of Europe at a time of a deep identity crisis that worries many.

We can always only wish peace instead of war.

 

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P.S.#2  I just finished All the Lights We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. A magnificent novel mostly set in Saint Malo, a fortified small city in Britanny, France, during WWII. Extraordinary moving story about the absurdity of war but also its humanity despite the inhuman nature of war. A true chef d’oeuvre.

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photo(27)From my home to yours, on Memorial Day.

 

 

Comments

  1. judithworks says:

    We visited the Normandy WWII battle sites including Omaha Beach. Yes, so many wars so many dead.

  2. I know I’m echoing what so many others have said and will say … but in this world, we need to find some other way to setting differences than mass slaughter. No amount of holidays or memorials can make up for the terrible damage done by our wars … and they never seem to end.

    • 100% in agreement with you here. I wanted to link to an excellent article I read in Le Monde on this topic. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to, due to a Java incompatibility. Yes, wars are always atrocious and never solve our differences. Memorials can only remind us of that. Despite the fact that some wars are called necessary they never start for a good reason.
      I hope your long weekend was restful. 💐

  3. Lovely post 🙂

  4. Thank you for this very touching post Evelyne.

  5. This is a very beautiful post. Linking on my Facebook page, Evelyne.

  6. Behind the Story says:

    I was a young adult during the Vietnam War, a time when we saw too much of the horror and folly of war. My prayer is that we can honor our veterans by working for peace so that other men and women won’t have to fight and die in other wars.

    My dad fought in Italy and France during WWII. He spent a couple of months in a French hospital. I hope my grandsons will be spared the experience of war.

    I’m currently reading The Nightingale. I don’t know why it took me so long to get to it. It’s an excellent book. Have you read it?

    • Thank you, Nicki, for your moving comment and also for the book suggestion since I haven’t read it. I plan a trip to the library today; I’ll look for it. See you soon.

  7. Yep, all very true and touching. The older I get the more I appreciate the level of courage involved and the impact such wars had and have. And sitting inthe UK while the nonsense of our upcoming referendum circles about me I cannot help but be encouraged by seeing Hollander and Merkel take time out. Why does anyone think we’ve avoided s European war since 1945 but for the solidarity of community? Hey ho, let’s hope the British reluctance to change will mean a sensible decision.

    • Thank you for your meaningful comment. I never found a justification to wars, although it is true that some have been necessary. Never their beginnings, though.
      When I see how neighbors sometimes fight about fences, property lines, it’s no surprise that wars happen. A shame when we can accomplish such wonders when we team up. As for Europe I also wish for unity and solidarity.
      Thank you again for reading and writing.

  8. Thank you for your poignant reminder.

  9. Thank you. It’s amazing how we run into people and get the beautiful opportunity to listen to their touching stories.

    • Yes, it always amazes me when such encounters happen. I don’t really believe in destiny but sometimes it seems that running into specific people isn’t just random. I like to think that a common thread made us look up at the same time, smile or in my case literally collide into them, triggering a conversation. Thank you, Jennifer. See you around for more stories.

  10. This is a touching and lovely post, Evelyn. The story of meeting the woman in the airport was beautifully told. Hugs.

  11. So moving, Evelyne, such a powerful story. People have so many common threads. You are a great story-teller.

    • Thank you, Gulara. Of course, being told that I’m a good story-teller makes me blush. That’s the goal of any writer, right? Thank you again.
      You’re also absolutely right about the common threads between people, wherever they live.
      Perhaps the only job of a writer is to dig inside herself and write about the universality of human feelings, with the hope to talk to as many people as possible.

  12. A moving post, thanks for it. Yes, we should never forget all the ones who died to give us freedom…
    robert

Trackbacks

  1. […] to two former posts:  A Hike to Remember ( a Memorial Day hike in Yosemite with my  son) and In Memory (about my eternal gratitude towards the Americans who liberated France from the German occupation). […]

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