My friend Betsy drew my attention to an installation called The Fallen last week and I have not been able to get the images out of my mind. Conceived and engineered (with the help of some 500 stenciling volunteers) by the British artists Andy Moss and Jamie Wardley of Sand In Your Eye in honor of International Peace Day (September 21), the interactive project involved the production of thousands (9000 to be exact) of sand silhouettes designed to represent the enormous loss of life that occurred on D-Day. The landing beach of Arromanches in France appears littered with shadowy “bodies”: now washed away by the tide, they remain, at least for me, an unforgettable sight.
From today’s Prayer for the Morning in Magnificat, a hymn for Memorial Day: “Remember, Lord, the fallen Who died in fields of war, In flaming clouds, in screaming crowds, On streets that are no more, That we today might waken And greet this day in peace With grateful prayer for those who bear The storms that never cease.
“Remember friends and strangers, And those forgotten now, Whose names are known to you alone, Before whose love we bow And ask that you surround them With mercy’s endless light That we may live, and we forgive The foe they went to fight.
“Remember, Lord, the living, Who bear the pain of loss– A death she died who stood beside Her Son upon the cross.
“Remember all your children, The dead and those who weep, And make us one beneath the sun Where love will never sleep.”
– Sr. Genevieve Glen, O.S.B.
Copyright 2004, Benedictine Nuns, Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO.
My dad had many close calls while serving in Europe during WWII, and lost many friends, but there is one in particular I want to remember today: his best friend, killed by a land mine in France? Belgium? Germany? I’ll never know. He finally told me the story–which he had never told anyone else–on Memorial Day 1992. The last Memorial Day he lived to see. It was also only the second time I ever saw my dad in tears (the other was when my grandma died). I’m afraid I wasn’t much help to him. I was so stunned to see tears in my dad’s eyes I didn’t know what to say. But I’ve never forgotten the pain in his eyes, and the way his voice cracked in the middle of his tale.
This is a picture of them together, I think. I know this was taken in Europe because of my dad’s acne. He was very handsome but he broke out for the first and only time in his life in France from, he told me, eating too much chocolate from their rations! I suspect the stress of being in combat may have added to the skin problems. In any case, this soldier is in a number of pictures my dad took, and this is the only professional picture he had of him with any of his buddies. but I will never know. For the last 21 years, however, I have prayed for my dad’s friend, and all the boys he knew who never came home.
It gives me a pang in my heart every time I remember the time I was planning a trip to France, and I showed my dad all the material that the Normandy Tourist Office had sent me about visiting the WWII beaches, especially Omaha Beach. He looked puzzled and asked me why on earth I would want to go there. Shocked, I said, “Because you were there. You were in the third assault wave to land on Omaha Beach. Daddy,” I said, ” you were a hero.” He turned away to hide the fact, I suspect, that he got choked up. Amazingly, my own father, the man I had lived with for 23 years, never realized before that his daughter thought he was a hero. (Alas, the trip to France fell through. But someday I’m going to see that beach, and bring flowers in memory of all of those who shed their blood n “Bloody Omaha.”)
I mentioned a later that day that I was planning to visit the American Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mere. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said, quietly, “I watched them build that cemetery.” And I know he never, ever, got over the images he carried from Nordhausen and Buchenwald.
My beloved and gentle father has been at peace now for 20 years. I believe this with all of my being; I know the memories which tormented him all his life have no power to hurt him now, and that God has wiped away all of his tears. But it still breaks my heart to think of my dad, just a boy really, straight off the farm in Minnesota, facing the evils of Nazi Germany.
Eternal rest grant unto him, and all those who served our country, oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls rest in Your peace, until we meet again. Amen.