By Michelle Powers
It was 75 years ago when my uncle and thousands of other young men, some my age, some even younger, stormed Normandy’s beaches. The barbed-wire frontlines of Hitler’s Third Reich were teeming with landmines waiting to blow, Luftwaffe overhead, waiting to strafe.
My uncle, Giuliano Caravello, made it off those beaches, able to walk again on New York City’s cement streets … but only because of the others who never made it off the shore. Their last steps heavy, imprinted in sand. Footprints washed away, like their hopes. Like their lives.
If there is one thing I learned by having the privilege to visit the Normandy American Cemetery near Omaha Beach on the anniversary of its darkest hours in history, it is this: In life, you only get where you’re going because of the people around you, the ones who take a bullet for you, the ones who pick you up when you fall, the ones who keep pushing you, bleeding and broken. Even the ones who run by you. Maybe them the most.
And this: You only get where you’ve been because of those who came before you. The ones who pushed through, cut their way through impenetrable hedge groves, parachuted behind enemy lines, scaled cliffs, all to liberate the world.
That leaves me here, where the sea meets the sand in northern France. Generations later, thousands of miles from Brooklyn, watching the same tide my uncle rolled in on. The water laps, the seagulls caw. The sand crunches and shells crack. Did anyone hear any of that on June 6, 1944? Serenity didn’t have its time or place there. Not then. No match for the rumble of engines, the cries for humanity. I only wish some did hear the small sounds, familiar ones to a boy from Coney Island or Sheepshead Bay breathing in the sea air as his last.
I stand barefoot – no boots, no backpack. No ill-fitting helmet, clean fingers and a clean face. Not with everything to lose, but everything to gain. Looking out on Normandy, you realize one thing. The sun shines in your eyes, but it’s clear. Water sprays in your face, but not enough to blur it.
“It” is this: Together – we too, can make even the ugliest battlefields beautiful and breathless sites to behold for future generations. That’s a freedom worth living for, fighting for and as thousands proved – some known only by God – worth dying for.
Powers is the managing editor of news gathering for The Tablet.