In tenth grade, I visited France with the Normandy Academy through the National WWII Museum to study D-Day. It was incredible to win the essay contest for the trip. On July 10th, I set off to France with the eleven other students from across the country. We each chose a Fallen Soldier that died on D-Day to research and perform a eulogy at his grave. I learned how much beauty the world has to offer and gained a new perspective for the sacrifices of American servicemen.
I woke up at 6:15, sunlight pouring through the open window and the hum of Caen, France leaking in from the city streets below. After hurried showers and more hurried packing, I dragged my luggage through the thickly carpeted hallways to meet the other members of the Normandy Academy in the hotel lobby. We delved into fresh croissants and gulped our coffee before tumbling out of the hotel doors to hand in our room keys and haul our luggage into our little white tour bus. We waved goodbye to Caen’s sleepy canals, little old ladies sweeping their front porches, and young couples chatting lazily over lattes and cigarettes.
After an hour of twisting through the French countryside, farms and cottages rushing past, we pulled up at the gate of Normandy American Cemetery. As we stepped off the bus, the scent of freshly cut grass and salty English Channel breeze washed over us. We made our way into the silent cemetery and were met by pristine emerald lawns dotted with gleaming white headstones that stood at attendance in perfect rows. “Welcome, bienvenue!” we were greeted by an American cemetery staff, “You must be the Normandy Academy, right on schedule!” We trailed behind his brisk step in awe of the cemetery’s beauty despite the pain that rested there. Before beginning our eulogies, we stood in a semi-circle around an enormous flagpole. The cemetery staff unfolded a Star-Spangled Banner, and we watched it ascend into the crystal blue sky and wave valiantly in the breeze. As we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, I was flooded with an intense surge of patriotism, and for the first time in my life, I wiped away tears as I finished the Pledge. It dawned on me that we were surrounded by men who fought and died for America – for American dreams, American hope, and American courage to challenge injustice.
“Natalie McDonald?” I looked up and little, serious man beckoned me over. “You’ll be the first to deliver your eulogy.” I nodded as butterflies danced in my stomach and my heart jumped into my throat. We made our way to a sunny corner of the cemetery, and found the headstone of Private Jordan R. Krummes, whose life I had researched and whose path I had shadowed along the trip. In tradition, I stooped at his headstone to plant an American and a French flag at the base of his headstone and rubbed sand from Omaha Beach (upon which he died) into the engraving. I looked around at the thousands of men who had sacrificed everything to fight for America on foreign soil. I took a deep breath, then turned to face the fifteen people awaiting my eulogy. “I cannot express my gratitude toward the men who sacrificed everything for freedom on June 6, 1944 – D-Day. But here, today, we remember the life of one such soldier, Private Jordan R. Krummes…”
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