Every waking moment and many dreams were spent planning out how to maximize this opportunity. We wanted to see it all in Europe, but we also didn’t want it to be one long vacation hopping from one tourist attraction to the next. We wanted the boys to embrace the beauty and grace of the vast number of European cultures but also to experience the cost that comes with preserving it. So when we took them to London to see Big Ben, the Buckingham Palace and learn about life during air raids. When we walked the old city of Barcelona, they sampled tapas but also saw the bullet holes in buildings from Franco’s execution squads. When in entering Venice, we rode in beautiful boats but also over the bridges Mussolini built to help move armament to support Hitler. Or in Holland where they navigated the canals and learned about Anne Frank; or in Germany where we ate pretzels and bratwurst in Munich only to visit Dachau the next day. And list goes on…we did two years of this – trying to mix lightness with darkness – the grace with the disgrace of humanity.
We saved the best for last: Normandy on Fourth of July. Our youngest, Yummy (William – now 7), might not remember everything from these two years abroad, but our hope is he’ll remember this one. The point of making this trip the last one was that we wanted the boys first to see all the splendor of Europe (it is vast, and we barely scratched the surface!) but end with an understanding that there is a price to be paid to preserving the freedoms of these wonderful cultures. And what better place for the boys to experience this “payment” than the beaches and backcountry of Normandy. The night before last, we all watched the opening scene of the movie “Saving Private Ryan” (landing on Omaha Beach) and then the next morning woke up at 5:40 am so we could all be standing in the water off of Omaha Beach. At roughly the same time (0630hrs was H-hour) the American, British and Canadian forces started arriving on June 6, 1944. We saw Utah beach and various sites of the 82nd and 101st Airborne’s drop zones (where they were supposed to be and what actually happened). We saw the cliffs that the Second Ranger Battalion climbed (Pointe du Hoc) and the craters made from the 16-inch guns of USS Texas Battleship along with a visit to the German cemetery where over 21,000 troops are buried.
Today, on Fourth of July, we’ll see more sites, but it will end hearing a song, “Taps,” while we stand overlooking the most important part of the “payment,” the US cemetery above Omaha Beach where over 9,100 Americans are laid to rest. The point of it all is to remind my boys, the next generation, that freedom isn’t free. There’s a price to pay. For many of us, that price comes in the form of a tax bill, but for many other families, it comes with a much higher price, the sacrifice of a loved one to protect our way of life, our freedom. Unfortunately, there are and will be more “payments” made in the years to come but as our boys mature, may they never forget that there is a price for freedom.
Happy Fourth of July and may God Bless the United States of America, our allies, and our troops!
P.S. The picture below was taken yesterday by the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc where US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs, took heavy casualties while capturing and defending it for three days.
This post was originally published on LinkedIn.