My friend Carla Galanos recently returned from the beaches of Normandy with deep gratitude to God and our brave soldiers for making our Fourth of July celebration still possible. I've asked her to share highlights of the experience hoping her words will enrich your holiday too. Enjoy!
It’s here! July 4–our favorite summer holiday. Fireworks, flags, parades, red, white and blue everything, barbeque and glow sticks–all the trappings to celebrate our country’s birthday. This year we are remembering that it all began with a Declaration, an unwavering commitment to freedom and liberty.
In May of this year, my husband I took a “bucket list” trip to the Normandy beaches where, on June 6, 1944, D-Day, our American soldiers paid dearly for our freedom. We planned to be there on Memorial Day commemorating the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Allied Invasion. Our anticipation and expectation for the trip was over-the-top and probably unrealistic, as friends spoke of patriotic goose bumps, the somber emotion of walking through the American cemetery, and the indescribable courage and self-sacrifice of our soldiers.
But even with all the pre-trip hype, our expectations were too low and our understanding of the D-Day task too shallow in three areas. First, now we more fully comprehend that the victory at Normandy served as the critical tipping point of the entire war against Hitler’s domination of Europe and the West (that’s us!). How chilling to consider our nation under Nazi totalitarianism–without freedom, liberty, and a democratic government!
Second, our understanding of the human cost of the Allied Forces securing this freedom was inadequate. We could recite the statistics, 94,881 wounded and 20,838 American deaths in Normandy, but our emotions unraveled as we walked among the 172 acres of perfectly aligned marble crosses and Stars of David, stopping to read the names¬¬– James from Fresno, California, Michael from Des Moines, Iowa, Tim from Longview, Texas. The names and places sound so familiar. The average age was 22.
Third, we realized with new depth that apart from God’s grace, this victory was impossible. We crawled into the network of fortified bunkers and peered over the one hundred foot cliffs. As we walked on the sandy beaches we could visualize the seasick, dehydrated soldiers disembarking from the landing craft, many drowning under the excessive weight of their munitions, and thousands dropping on the beaches under the synchronized German gunfire. Even the Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, penned a letter prior to the invasion taking personal accountability for its failure. He recognized that the risk was enormously high, based on German defenses, the rugged cliffs, inclement weather, and lack of experience of most of the Allied troops. Fortunately, he did not have to send the letter.
So how was it that the D-Day invasion overcame the insurmountable obstacles and unbreakable defenses and somehow began to turn back Hitler’s domination? Our only conclusion was God’s grace and faithfulness. “He is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or imagine… “ (Eph 3:20).
Side Note: Before we left, we purchased the devotional that was issued to soldiers during the war, Strength for Service to God and Country, published in 1942. This pocket-sized book contained 365 devotionals written by pastors across the United States, each one offering spiritual strength and perspective based on God’s presence, protection, and provision. We couldn’t help but think about how God’s Word prepared them for the brutal task ahead and the stark reality of death.
This year we look forward to celebrating our nation’s birthday with an enlarged view of the cost of freedom and a deeper gratitude for God’s favor: “America! America! God shed his grace on Thee.”