The eyes of the world are upon you

It is almost the end of our stay in Bayeux, France and soon we will be heading east to Paris. We have seen an incredible number of museums and monuments in the last few days, and the experience has been truly amazing. I was struck most by the differences in the remembrance of the dead by the Germans, Americans, and British. We toured cemeteries for each country and discovered that they were not what we had expected at all.

Our first visit was to the German cemetery in La Cambe. The place was incredibly solemn and somber with black crosses and a large hill topped by huge statues of the Virgin Mary and Joseph. The headstones were a reminder that the group of individuals called upon to defend the Norman coast consisted of teenage Hitler Youth and men over the age of thirty. I was fascinated to walk through the grounds and read the names of the fallen enemy. I also appreciated the air of reconciliation and the plea for peace that seemed to surround the place.

The second cemetery we visited was the American Cemetery at Coleville. This was probably the most disappointing part of Normandy for me, personally. We had to go through security to enter the grounds, which included emptying our pockets and going through a metal detector. We finally got to the cemetery and wanted to start the rose laying ceremony for the 13 Buckeyes buried on the grounds, but ran into some trouble. The section A was roped off and we were unable to lay the roses on the actual grave site. I was very disappointed by the policies of the superintendent and the inflexibility that was shown to us. The entire cemetery had an air of arrogance that I did not think did justice to those buried there.

The British cemetery was the biggest surprise of the trip thus far. The entire grounds were so serene and so moving that I felt as though I could walk through for hours, reading the various headstones. The messages from loved ones were so sincere and so sweet and a few almost moved me to tears. I felt especially touched at one headstone of a soldier whose wife wrote him a brief, but sweet message about how she had lost the love of her life and father of their daughter. The whole atmosphere was conducive to reflection and remembrance. The British cemetery was absolutely beautiful and my favorite of the three we visited.

The willingness of the British to allow German and Italian soldiers to be buried alongside their own, as well as the willingness of the French to give the Germans a burial site for their dead speaks volumes of the importance of reconciliation. Every exhibit we saw in France stressed the importance of peace for the future and disgust for war. The simplicity and beauty of the British cemetery was deeply moving and allowed me to look into the lives of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom. Touring these sites has been very eye opening in my understanding of how the European continent has dealt with their losses during and after the Great War.


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