Excerpt from an article published in the Herald-Citizen, Cookeville, Tennessee, on June 6, 2004
(soldiers walking the beach at Normandy, 2004)
“I hear you are going to be in Normandy during the first week of June,” my grandfather, Bishop (Pa-Bish) Holliman wrote to me in an email. “I’m sure I’ve told you where I was on D-Day, 1944. I was on the Barker (a Navy destroyer) and we were coming through the Straits of Gibraltar.”
“I was on watch that morning,” Pa-Bish’s email continued, “in the radio shack and I heard over the BBC that the invasion had occurred. Needless to say, I was glad to be where I was at the time. I realized that it was largely by the luck of the draw, or what letter of the alphabet your name began with, that most of us were where we were at any time during the war. If we made it through the war unscathed, we were just plain lucky.”
Not everyone was as lucky as my grandfather.
It is June 2, 2004 and Allies have once again invaded Normandy. This time it is with cameras, re-enactors, portable pavilions and folding chairs. My husband, father, stepmother and I are just four of the hundreds of people who are watching the military and media from all over the western world prepare for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day.
Today the American Cemetery, located along the coast of Omaha Beach, is full of activity. Gardeners are finishing up last minute weed-eating, mowing and pruning. Cut grass is being collected and loaded into carts pulled by lawn tractors. The 3rd Armor Division is drilling for the ceremonies that will take place in less than four days.
Three young French girls run up to two U.S. soldiers with paper and pen. I watched as the enlisted men sign their names.
“I bet you didn’t plan on being a celebrity,” I say to one of the men.
“Yeah, it is kind of weird,” he said, a bit embarrassed after realizing that I was an American. “But being here sure beats where we are stationed in Germany.”
It appears that the French are pleased to see the Allies return. Flowers and flags, primarily of American, British, and Canadian nationalities, are on poles in window boxes and strung across streets in banners.
Ste-Mere-Eglise, a town that became a drop zone for the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, is brimming with tourists and trucks loaded with grandstand equipment. Locals sit in front of cafes amused with the lighting and sound gear that is being set up on their church lawn.
Pointe-du-Hoc, the dividing cliff between Omaha and Utah beaches, is swarming with men and women dressed in WWII uniforms. Re-enactors of American, British and German origin mingle with civilian-clothed tourists and active duty troops. Occasionally it is difficult to distinguish the re-enactors from the real servicemen.
Before leaving the American Cemetery, my family and I stroll around through the rows and rows of bright white crosses and stars. We can hear the ocean crashing along the coastline with sporadic interruptions from the buzz of weed-eater motors.
A few members of the media are practicing camera angles and interviewing veterans. I watch as military personnel from the U.S., England, and France walk along the path between the graves and the ocean. They are here to commemorate D-Day together.
“You are going to have to give your grandfather a phone call when you get home and tell him about your trip,” my father stated as our group slowly walked back to the memorial entrance.
“Absolutely,” I said as my mind raced ahead to packing bags, plane tickets, and returning to work on Monday. “It has been an amazing trip.”
Glancing back at the rows of white, it occurred to me that the men buried here never had the chance to become grandfathers.
Next week, Glenn returns to 17th Century Virginia and continue to uncover that first generation of Hollimans and their challenges in a new land.