Last week I was fortunate to be in Washington, D.C. on the 70th anniversary of D-Day: June 6, 1944. On that momentous day, troops from several nations made their brave surprise landing on the beaches of Normandy. The Europe we know today–in fact, the whole world we know today–would have been very different without the selfless sacrifices of the millions who fought, in Normandy and elsewhere. Many veterans were in Washington for the occasion. At the Lincoln Memorial, I watched a scene that I saw repeated over and over all week long.
A very frail elderly veteran in a wheelchair paused for a moment in the entrance to the Lincoln Memorial chamber, with the Washington Memorial in the background. One after another, total strangers stopped to thank him for his service. His family graciously thanked those who greeted him and allowed strangers to take pictures. I was moved to tears.
Nearby, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, similar scenes played out. Volunteers slowly pushed aging veterans along The Wall, pausing for quiet conversations. Overhearing some conversations, I was reminded that many military families have lost loved ones in several different wars over the years.
Park rangers, as always, stood ready with well-worn books containing the names of the dead. On the Vietnam Memorial wall, the fallen are listed in the order in which they fell. Stepladders are at the ready. A park ranger will climb a ladder and carefully make a rubbing of the name of one of the fallen on request.
I’ve been to the beaches of Normandy. It is hard to grasp the carnage that took place there. Few of those who were actually present are still alive. Their memory will endure.