By C. Hope Clark
My husband and I visited family in Germany several years ago. Since we’re history buffs, we boarded a charter to cross Germany and France, to spend time at Normandy, to walk in the footsteps of World War II soldiers and attempt to understand the intense meaning of that period of June 1944.
The compilation of tourists – of Germans, French, British, Americans and other nationalities I could not recognize, humbled me. I felt foreign, which to most Americans is an abnormal sensation. With thoughts of the proverbial Ugly American in my head, I kept quiet, observing, in awe of folks much more traveled than I.
My introspection allowed me to reach a deeper perspective as we bussed through towns, stopping here and there to savor authentic flavor of eateries and shops. Ignorant of languages other than my own, I learned to ask some questions, but more often copied the person in front of me when it came down to what to eat and how to make change.
We observed an original German coastal battery with its original cannons still in place. We visited sites at Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, including Pointe du Hoc, Verville-sur-Mer, and the American Cemetery. We toured the Memorial at Caen; the Airborne Troops museum at Ste Mère Eglise; the Normandy Museum in Bayeux. So many churches. So much history, giving me such an earnest respect for history so much older than my country’s short life.
Many streets had French names, then secondary names taken from fallen US soldiers, on the same corner signs. My heart caught in my chest. Several tiny French villages still honored American soldiers through homemade museums, filled with memorabilia and dated souvenirs the Smithsonian would adore. The locals recognized Americans in our group, still thankful after all these years for what soldiers older than my father did for their relatives older than theirs.
Only the coldest of hearts shed no tear at the American Cemetery where parallel rows of white crosses overlooked Omaha Beach. I cried for young men who never returned to home soil, home sweethearts, home mothers. But I caught myself feeling ashamed. It took me traveling across the ocean, listening to a German tour guide, to truly understand the sacrifice of my country and its people. . . for me, for my family then, now, and tomorrow.
Somehow, seeing my country’s advances in the world, in aid of others, protecting all I love, from an entirely different perspective, gave me intense pride I never expected. It took me traveling thousands of miles to see that the grass is redder, whiter and bluer once it isn’t growing directly under my feet.
Let us truly appreciate who we are and how far we’ve come in such a short time . . . without having to be reminded by a resident from another country. God bless America.
C. Hope Clark is author of Lowcountry Bribe, Bell Bridge Books, Feb 2012. She is also editor of FundsforWriters.com and her weekly newsletters reach 44,000 readers. Most of her family is affiliated with military or civilian government service, and are true patriots. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com