In 2015, my son was living in France for the summer while enrolled in a French language program. He was staying with a host family in Rouen, which is the principal city in Normandy. The beaches of Normandy have been on my bucket list for a long time, so I traveled to spend some time with him.
We first went to the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. From the visitor center, walking toward the gravesites, one comes upon a small bluff. Looking out from its highest point, you can see nearly 10,000 crosses and Stars of David facing west toward America, which none of these men ever saw again.
The wave of emotion that hit me was staggering. When one thinks of the heartache and tears shed over each one of these young men, it is numbing. Each grave marker is as white as alabaster, and the entire cemetery is immaculate. The site is surrounded by pine trees, and on the sun-swept day we went, you could sense the pride in each American visitor.
As I began to make my way among the graves, I walked through a gap in the markers and looked at the first cross on my left. What I saw stopped me in my tracks and caused my emotions to swim. The name on the marker was Whitney Faulk, listed as a resident of Louisiana. I later learned that, like me, Whitney was a native of Vermilion Parish. He made the ultimate sacrifice on Day One of the Normandy invasion — June 6, 1944.
The cemetery guides are locals. We were told that the waiting list to become one of the guides is years long. Each Frenchman I encountered had a profound sense of gratitude, over 70 years after the "debarqement," which is what the invasion is called in France.
Later in the trip, we were near Mont St. Michel late one afternoon when we saw a sign that said “Cimitiere Allemand” or “German Cemetery.” We found the cemetery at dusk in a hamlet named Huisnes-sur-Mer.
In stark contrast to the American cemetery in Normandy, this place was grim and foreboding. When we were in the American cemetery, there were hundreds of other people and the place was bright and triumphant. At the German cemetery, we were the only two people there among nearly 12,000 graves.
As we walked through the tombs, I thought that it was the most haunting place I had ever visited. As I began to read the names of the men buried there, I thought that although they were part of an immensely evil regime, not all of them were evil men. They were brothers, sons, husbands and fathers who had the supreme misfortune of being born into the service of Hitler and the Nazis.
Never has this phrase had more meaning to me: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
— Broussard lives in Abbeville
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