It started early Friday morning, on the 21st of September. We had to head up to Poitiers for my wife Crystal’s chest x-ray and medical exam. This is a requirement for anyone wishing to stay in France for any extended period of time. I must point out that we have been living in France since last November, and granted, when we first moved here, my wife was pregnant with our daughter, so she was unable to get the x-ray at the time, then with our extended trip back to Michigan for military duty, we just finally got around to getting there again. Funny thing is, her temporary ‘resident visa’ or recepisse, as they call it, is actually valid until after she is scheduled to fly home for good! But I digress, the point of telling you about the trip to Poitiers is really to pontificate on the great idea that it led my wife to have….since we are already heading north, why don’t we just continue a few hours further and go visit Omaha Beach in Normandy?! You’ll get no argument from this old Soldier! So, as she usually (and awesomely) does, she went to work planning. Itineraries and hotel reservations, “Top Things To Do In Normandy” lists, I’m pretty sure there was some Pinterest ’research’ going on as well.
By the time we left her medical appointment, the kids were strapped in and we started the next 4 hour leg that would lead us up to our ‘hotel’, Résidence Pierre & Vacances Green Beach. This was no mere hotel, this was a small resort town that had been converted into several ‘houses’ that could be rented on the golf course. By European hotel standards, this was a mansion. It could sleep 5-6 adults easily. Only trouble was it was a 2-story condo, which for a group of adults would be no issue, but a young family of 4, one of which is a 2 year old who loves to climb stairs and has no fear, it basically meant we were all sleeping on the pull out couch on the main floor! Beautiful none-the-less.
After getting settled into our mansion of a room, we finally ventured out into town to have a wonderful French dinner. The town of Port-en-Bessin is right on the beach and is full of pizzerias, creperies, and tobacco shops, and all of those little places that sell trinkets that the kids always ‘have to have’. We found a little place that looked inviting and went in. Jack was an angel, and when Venice finally settled down and fell asleep, we were able to enjoy a nice Rose wine and a delicious meal. I ended up getting a gallete mounginarde, which was like a thin pancake with camembert cheese (native to the Normandy region), potatoes, and slices of jambon, it was amazing! As I sat there enjoying the mouth-watering culture that northern France has to offer, I can’t help but wonder what it is in children, that wherever they may be in the world, they still prefer either cheese pizza or Chicken McNuggets! But he was being good, so if it keeps him happy, I’m all for it! After dinner we were able to head back to the room so the kids could crash and mom and dad were able to have some quiet time on the back patio with some wine and a cigar. I have never seen so many stars at one time…a perfect ending to a great day.
It was Saturday the 22nd though that brought us up to this beautiful part of the country. We woke up early and headed to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial on Omaha Beach. This was the first trip like this for our family. Before my wife and I were married, we lived in Washington D.C. for a year after 9/11, and we each saw many memorials to our Armed Forces, but it strikes your heart chords a bit differently when you have your own children and realize that those were 9,387 American sons and daughters that paid the ultimate sacrifice on that soil, and another 1,557 that were never found. It caused me to pause and think back to 2005, when I was 25, preparing to lead a Company of American sons and daughters into combat in Iraq, still a boy in the eyes of my mother and father. How they must have worried. I worry. My oldest is still 16 years away from being able to serve his country, and yet I worry. Haven’t my wife and I sacrificed enough? With six deployments between the two of us, have we not freed our children from that burden? But then, how do I deny them this feeling of honor and duty, selfless service, pride, that I feel everyday, to be a part of something larger than myself? The worry never stops. Not when they are 2. Not when they are 10. Not when they are 40. Never.
Then back to the present. Walking side by side my son, through the rows and rows of beautifully manicured gravestones overlooking the vast beach that these heroes were never able to leave. Their hard-fought sacrifice allowing good ‘men’ to prevail against evil and create a better world for all. I hope one day he understands. I know he will only have this photo as a memory, but I hope some day he looks at it with the fondness that I already do. I hope one day he will share this place with his children. I hope.
That evening was filled with spaghetti and swimming in the nice heated pool. It was the first time that our daughter would swim in a pool, and of course like her brother, she took to it like a fish. Jack, at 2 years old, with his swimmies on his arms was already kicking away from me to swim on his own, climb out of the pool to turn around and jump in, no fear.
All of these memories….and many more to make. It was an amazing weekend. I look back on times like these and my heart is overwhelmed by how blessed my life is.