June 6, 1944. The greatest amphibious invasion in military history. Every allied nation on earth was represented in the audacious battle launched by the Allies to take back Western Europe from the control of Hitler’s Nazi armies. It began in Normandy, and the Allied forces then made their way, mile by mile, liberating the people of France.
Among the many photographs that I've seen of the aftermath of the Normandy invasion, one of them caught my eye this week. It is a picture of two British soldiers, stripped to their waists, holding their coats, watching a little nervously as two French women—who could easily be their aunties or older sisters—are washing out their shirts for them. One of the women is smiling while she scrubs; the other is intent on her task. One of the soldiers is wearing a jaunty hat that is clearly not standard issue, and the other has leaned over a bit towards the women, as if to make small talk.
It is a photo filled with hopefulness, a moment of kindness and gratitude captured as a reminder of what D-Day gave back to the people of France and the world: the opportunity to grow old and not die in battle, to show compassion and appreciation, to act gallantly and with courtesy. The opportunity to be ordinary and unremarkable, with a shirt rinsed out with affection and care to remind you of your family back home and everything worth fighting for.
A few weeks after this photo was taken, on August 25, the French 2nd Armored Division and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division liberated Paris, and Operation Overlord came to an end. It was the turning point in World War II, the beginning of the liberation of Europe and the fall of Hitler.
The years have begun to obscure the individual acts of the courageous souls who fought in Normandy. Let our admiration and respect for their sacrifices remain bright and undimmed. Let us recall them in their vigor and youthfulness, with a clear memory of what they risked and gave for freedom. The 75th anniversary of D-Day is an opportunity for each of us to express gratitude and appreciation for what they achieved.
View a Blog with the Photo Described and Others