Monday, October 4, 2010
October 4th--“Hearing is easy; Understanding is impossible; Thank You is a forgotten word”
Today was the start of an emotional journey. Coming out of the hotel elevator, I was greeted by two smiling faces, veterans Alvin Henderson and Ralph Manley; that was a great start to my day. After Ralph kissed all the girls on the cheek, we were on our way. Today, we traveled four hours by bus from Paris to Normandy. Along the way, Ray Pfeiffer, one of our tour guides, provided us the history of France and its vital relationship with the United States since the American Revolution to present day. We also watched an episode of the “Band of Brothers” to help set the tone for the day. In the first five minutes of the movie, I realized I had heard an almost identical story from my paratrooper veteran, Alvin, making these stories come alive for me.
We arrived in Port-en-Bessen, which divided Omaha and Gold Beaches. It was such a quaint little town that seemed so peaceful, but only five of our group could really grasp the horror that occurred years ago. The veterans absolutely loved being at the beach, but it also brought back so many memories. With tears in their eyes, they shared bit by bit a little portion of their past with us. What was so amazing and inspiring to me was the way the locals reacted to our veterans at the Bayeux Cathedral of Notre Dame, a magnificent structure built in 1077 and damaged during the WWII. With each person Alvin and I passed, the people would stop and take time to thank him with the little broken English that they knew. Pictures, autographs, and “Merci” (thank you) were commonplace. This opened my eyes to how grateful the French continue to be for the sacrifices made by our veterans.
The great end to a long day culminated over dinner. After formal introductions, the veterans’ stories started pouring straight from their hearts. To hear how these men, one as young as 15 years-old, went into battle gave me the chills. One story that particularly touched my heart was Alvin Henderson’s. After stopping to help a wounded comrade, he was captured by the Germans, taken to a prison camp and treated horribly. Trying to hold his emotions together, he spoke of being beaten by German soldiers with no way to fight back. If I have learned anything from these veterans already, it is their sense of Duty and Loyalty. And they remain loyal to each other to this day.
The emotion that surrounded the stories from tonight came from the depths of their hearts. I feel so lucky and so blessed to be able to be a part of these men’s’ lives. Only now do I realize that we have not asked enough questions of these men. The number of WWII veterans is dwindling, but I count my blessings to have had the opportunity to know five of the most wonderful gentlemen.