Photo by Chris Card Fuller ©2006
D-Day Commemorations Yesterday and Today
June 6th, 1944. D-Day. Paris had to wait until the end of August to be liberated. How must it have felt for Parisians knowing that the Allied Forces had landed and that freedom was just around the corner?
When I first came to study in France, in the 1970s, I still remember my sense of awe talking to Parisians who had lived in wartime France; food shortages, risk of deportment, having to remain constantly muzzled. Never knowing if a jealous neighbor would end up getting you arrested or shot. Never knowing if there would be an end to occupation.
Here we are in 2007, 63 years later, and France has remained free and at peace. In spite of any complaints or dissatisfaction some citizens may have with their quality of life, their earning power, or any of the obstacles encountered in their pursuit of happiness, any way you look at it, sixty-three years of peace is a major accomplishment.
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Chris and I went to the D-Day ceremonies for the 50th-Anniversary and again for the 60th anniversary. The ceremonies brought us to the town of Bayeux, first town to be liberated in Normandy. No one questions the courage of the soldiers, many of whom lost their lives on those beaches. Normans that we’ve met have constantly expressed their deepest appreciation for the great sacrifice that was made by this often very young soldiers.
Between the 50th and 60th D-Day anniversaries, much had changed in the world, particularly 9-11, and in spite of President George W. Bush’s assurance to President Chirac during Memorial Day ceremonies in May of 2002 that he did not intend to go into Iraq, by March of 2003, American soldiers were once again landing on foreign shores.
Talking to French citizens, many of whom were just kids during the war, some shared with me their memories of meeting American soldiers for the first time, not knowing at first how to react – should they be scared? Or glad? Would the American soldiers be staying as long as the Germans did– or longer? One Parisian woman said to me, “We didn’t know how long the Americans would stay in Paris.” Another friend in Normandy mentioned briefly that the Americans finally left an airbase they had constructed outside of Evreux, Normandy – in the 1960s!
Sacrificing one’s life in exchange for another man or woman’s freedom is above and beyond the call of duty. Certainly most of the soldiers who headed toward those beaches hoped and prayed that they would not be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice – that they would be able to get back home alive. Some hoped that if they couldn’t get back home – at least they’d make sure that their buddies did.
Each year on the D-Day beaches, memorial services continue to be held. France doesn’t forget the sacrifices made. Just in St.Mere Eglise alone, a week-long series of events commemorates the parachute landings, here on the 63rd anniversary.
How will American and British soldiers be remembered sixty years from now in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Bosnia? Those nations that have found peace and prosperity, or are struggling toward peace – how will those who lost their lives on foreign soil be remembered?