On Memorial Day, My Own True Love and I make sure we attend a service in honor of the fallen. This year we were in Normandy on Memorial Day, enjoying a D-Day tour. In some ways, the entire tour was an extended Memorial Day experience, defined by General John Logan, the holiday’s founder, as “cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe.”
My Own True Love and I expected the Sunday before Memorial Day to be a gut-wrenching experience. The schedule included attending the official D-Day memorial service at the American Cemetery near Omaha Beach.* It soon became clear that the official service was too distant to have much impact. Instead our guide led us through the cemetery, telling us stories about fallen soldiers, love, loss, and heroism. The National World War II Museum, which organized the tour, had provided a flower arrangement and a large number of white roses. The members of the tour improvised a small service of our own. One member suggested that we leave the arrangement on the grave of an unknown soldier. Another suggested that the veterans in our group present the arrangement. It was a powerful moment. Tears were shed. (In fact, I am tearing up typing this after the fact.) As a ceremony, it had all the impact that the official celebration did not.(Leading me to suspect that intimacy is an essential ingredient in a Memorial Day service.) Afterwards, we scattered to place individual white roses on graves.**
As I walked back to the bus, I heard the sound of a lone bugle playing “Taps”–the end of the official celebration. I stopped to listen with a lump in my throat and an ache in my chest.
Remember the fallen. Thank the living. Pray for peace.
*Not the first time we’ve visited an official American cemetery abroad. It is always a moving experience. The Visitors’ Center at the cemetery in Normandy was closed due to the ceremony. Rumor has it that the exhibits are excellent. Quite frankly, I don’t think I could have handled any more.
**I would have liked to place mine on the grave of one of the four women buried in the cemetery. (I am pleased to say that one of the male members of the tour asked where they were buried before I could.) Unfortunately, they were all buried in a portion of the cemetery that was roped off to protect the ground due to recent weather conditions. While I am perfectly willing to kick open a door when there is a good reason, this didn’t seem to be one of these times.