The French Normandy invasion beaches once called Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha, Utah, and that dagger of rock, Pont du Hoc, constitute sacred ground. Their sandy shores and craggy cliffs are the places where, on June 6, 1944, the demonic Hitler regime began to be purged from Europe by blood.
On our first Normandy trip in 1995, Irene and I read "Welcome to our Liberators," scrawled on barn-roofs, the still-battered walls around little farms, and signboards everywhere. The welcoming words were left over from 1994, when many old warriors returned for the 50th anniversary.
On every trip since then, Irene and I have made sure to take people with us. We would that everyone could drink in the meaning and significance of the place — be inspired, and learn the deepest of its lessons.
The Normandy Invasion is a picture in the frame of space and time, a parable of the coming and advance of God's Kingdom of goodness, peace, and Spirit-given joy in the world.
On our most recent journey, we happened to come to Omaha Beach on July 4, American Independence Day. We drove down the immaculately kept lane to the parking area, then walked out to the crest of the bluff overlooking the English Channel and the beach below.
One is never quite prepared for the vista just around the walking path. Suddenly you break into the open, and there before you are 9,387 graves. The mass of white crosses and Stars of David proclaim the huge cost of the redemption of Europe from the Nazis.
There was a brisk wind on that first visit Irene and I made in 1995, and though the sun bathed the cemetery, a chill rose up off the Channel. As I walked out among the graves, I began to weep almost uncontrollably. In addition to the multitude of crosses, I noted the little stones on the 149 Jewish graves, signaling that someone had come to pay respect. I thought of the Holocaust victims languishing in 1944 in the concentration camps, not knowing their redemption was at that very moment drawing nigh.
On our recent visit to Omaha Beach, a choir burst out singing "Amazing Grace" just as we rounded the curve and came into view of the burial ground. How apt the song, because in this world of tyranny and legalism and dominance and terror the only hope is the Kingdom of grace.
One of our granddaughters traveled with us. She had just completed five-years in the U.S. Marines, finishing as one of the youngest sergeants on her base. I studied her expression as she looked on the glistening marble markers and knew that she understood what it meant more poignantly than any of us.
And I remembered another veteran on our third Normandy trip years earlier. Jack had landed at Normandy a few days after the initial assaults. Decades later we had all been walking together when suddenly I missed him.
I found Jack at a big monument engraved with the names of all the men who died in 1944 when their troop ship was blasted out of the water. Jack had been on the vessel just behind. I found him running his fingers over all those names now chiseled into the stone of people he had watched die. Jack's age-worn face was etched with tears.