D-Day altered by battles of a different kind

Our country was embroiled in battles of another kind as D-Day was recalled last Saturday. June 6, 1944, was the day when more than 160,000 U.S. soldiers — every one knowing in advance the peril they’d all be facing — stormed the beaches of Normandy, France to finally turn the tide against Hitler’s Germany.
My daughter was in elementary school when she wrote a little mystery story with a memorable line starting: “I followed my reluctant feet …” I’ve always thought of this as what those brave men most likely also thought on that incredible day of bravery and death and triumph. As their comrades fell before them, those who could carried on, until victory was theirs.
Fred and I visited the Normandy Beaches a number of years ago. It is impossible otherwise to conceive of the landings without the aid of films and photographs now on view at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. That institution opened exactly 20 years ago, June 6, 2000, and was then called “The National D-Day Museum.” In the two decades since, it has grown and matured into a place of history and honor for all of America’s fighters in that great conflict. But D-Day is still a centerpiece.
People ask, “Why New Orleans?” for such an institution. The answer: Andrew Jackson Higgins moved from his native Nebraska to found a boat-manufacturing business there. It was his Higgins boats that carried the troops who stormed Normandy; today, his landing craft is often called “The Boat That Won the War.”
There’s nothing like standing there yourself on the beach, looking out at the vast water, then turning your back and looking up at the hills, knowing this was where German soldiers were stationed, firing at the American GIs as they struggled toward land, then struggling again upward as their comrades once more fell before and beside them. The impact of actually being at this place defies description.
My husband and I didn’t visit on D-Day, but every day for the American cemetery at Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer is another D-Day for visitors and area’s residents. Local women and girls welcome everyone with flowers, as they first did the soldiers on that terrible day, and as they vowed then to do every day since American soldiers were first buried there. We carried stones gathered along the way to place on the relatively few markers with Stars of David scattered among the many crosses.
Unfortunately, my late Uncle Irwin was unable to go with us to France. But a number of years earlier, he went with us to the Museum — soon enough after its opening for him to become a charter member. And several in my extended family, starting with Fred and I, have since honored him — first in life, then in memory — by dedicating markers to his service on the paths leading to its entranceway.
This year, the pandemic kept the few remaining American Veterans of D-Day from making the long trip to France. There are less and less of them every day, and by next year, there may well be none left at all to visit Normandy in person. But this is a trip for every American who believes in patriotism and is able, both physically and financially, to make. Fred and I took it as part of a long-planned-for river boat vacation on the Seine, enabling us to see Paris and much else of France along the way. And since Fred’s passing, I’ve returned to New Orleans twice more, each time revisiting the Museum and marveling at its growth — both physically and in the amount of the war’s history it has expanded to cover.
I’m sorry that some well-intentioned tributes to the late George Floyd deteriorated into mayhem, so this year desecrated both his memory and that of D-Day. May all future parades and memorials for both be observed with proper respect and dignity for the martyrs they’re intended to honor.

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