A D-Day Remembrance 2019

I toured the D-day beaches of Normandy in October 2015 and after moving from the beaches of Juno, Utah and Omaha, and standing on the bluff at Pointe du Hoc, our small group ended at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. The number of white Lasa marble crosses is staggering – you walk among them and everywhere you turn your eyes catch not just the one in front of you but the long precisely ordered row behind it and the long row in front of it and those on the diagonals from it. It is sobering, it is humbling, and it can move you to tears within minutes.
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As I moved through the rows I began to read the names of soldiers. I don’t know what I was really looking for as I did it. Maybe a familiar last name? Maybe the state they came from? Maybe the unit they belonged to? It was aimless yet purposeful at the same time. Aimless because I had no connection to anyone who died there, purposeful because I felt as thought reading the names was a silent prayer of remembrance.

This marker stopped in my tracks.
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It reads, “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.” I referred to it in a Veteran’s Day blog in November 2016. I have posted it a few times on Instagram on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. There are 307 of these markers in the cemetery. But this picture haunts me when I think of who that soldier might have been. Perhaps he was a young farm boy from the MidWest engaged to his high school sweetheart, or a country boy from Alabama who stepped away from a college football scholarship to join the army, or a city boy from New York – riding the subway to his job or Ebbets Field where he cheered for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Perhaps he was that soldier in the iconic D-Day footage who takes four steps from the water’s edge and is felled by a German bullet. All we know is that he selflessly answered the call to serve his country and he was lost in the battle that turned the tide of the war and eventually the balance of freedom in the world.

This is the other picture from the American cemetery I still carry on my phone:
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It marks the grave of Pvt. John Pavalescu, Jr from Ohio who was part of the 501st Parachute Infantry and the 101st Airborne Division. The 501st were highly trained elite parachutists who jumped that day in poor weather, missed their marks and were scattered across fields upon landing. Despite that and German artillery fire they accomplished their mission goals but sustained heavy losses. John was one of them. He was 22 or 23 when he died. I keep the picture of his grave as my way of honoring him and those who were lost that day. I hope the people in Ohio who knew him and loved him kept his story and memory alive. He was a hero. I bet they did.

Only 4% of WWII vets are alive. Few will make the next milestone mark of the day so it falls those of us who came after to remember the war, the invasion, the defeat of the Nazi regime but most of all the men and women who won the war by their service, their sacrifice and their lives.

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