Saluting Our Veterans
Kid Reporter travels to Normandy
|Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur Mer, Normandy, France. (Photo: Sean Coffey)|
November 10, 2006
On the northern coast of France, along the English Channel, there is a place where more than 6,600 young Americans died in a single day. These heroes were key to the victory of the United States and its allies during an invasion in June of 1944. They sacrificed their lives to defend our country and change the course of history.
This Saturday marks Veterans Day, when we pause to remember these men, and everyone who has served in the military, for their important work. I recently paid a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery, where I was moved by the sacrifice made by those soldiers who gave everything on the beaches of Normandy to protect the world from Nazi Germany.
The official name of the June invasion was Operation Overlord, but most Americans know it as D-Day. Operation Overload was the Allies' big chance to attack the Germans in northern Europe, and push Germans troops out of France. The invasion was one of the largest in military history, consisting of approximately 12,000 aircraft, about 5,000 ships and more than 130,000 troops (mainly made up of American, British and Canadian soldiers).
Crossing the English Channel in the predawn hours of June 6, the Allies' destination was five beaches spread along 50 miles of French coastline. The Germans were caught by surprise, but that didn't stop the Allies from suffering more casualties than in any battle in history away from American soil.
When you go to the Normandy American Cemetery, you can't help but be moved. The cemetery is a 172-acre rectangle, a short walk from Omaha Beach—site of the deadliest battle on D-Day. Three thousand Americans died as they tried to take the beach, cut down by German guns and artillery on the bluff that looms over it.
You walk in the entrance to the cemetery and see trees lining the walkways, which are in the shape of a cross. The grass is perfectly cut and seems to reach farther than the eye can see. Then, you turn the corner, and stare awestruck at the perfectly aligned graves, rows and rows that seem to go on forever, every one made of white marble.
The graves are for soldiers from 49 of the 50 states. Some of the soldiers were not that much older than me. All of the graves— all 9,387—are the same. I walked through the rows, and along the beaches where so many of these men died, and I kept thinking, "Too many people died here."
The Allied forces won the battle in Normandy. A year later, the war was won, as well. Veterans Day falls on the anniversary of the end of World War I.
In history books, it's easy to read about what took place, but walking through the graves made me really appreciate the price that was paid for that victory–-for the preservation of our way of life. It was an experience I don't think I'll ever forget, especially the white marble grave I came across just before I left.
The headstone reads, " Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God."
Critical Thinking Question
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Saluting Our Veterans
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Sean Coffey is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.