Last year when I attended the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion, I left Normandy, France feeling the proudest I’ve ever been wearing the U.S. Army uniform. So this year when I boarded the MC-130 Shadow aircraft to Normandy, I was excited to return to a place where the American Soldier is so adored and appreciated.
Just like last year, American Soldiers attending the event were invited into the home off a French family for dinner in one of the many local towns throughout the region. After I ensured the many Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen were shuttled to their destination; I was left with two young French women to go to their residence for dinner.
I was quite surprised that both Nathalie, age 23, and Angelique, age 24, could speak English pretty well, as normally the language barrier makes the encounter a little difficult initially for both Soldier and the family members. Welcoming me to her home, Nathalie, was continuing a tradition that she’d experienced throughout her entire life growing up in this part of France.
The people in this region have been inviting American Soldiers into their homes as an expression of gratitude for delivering them from tyranny from the Germans during World War II. Nathalie told us stories of how her parents always had Army veterans who served in either the 82nd Airborne Division or 101st Airborne Division as guests in their house.
Some would stay as long as a week at a time for the commemoration of D-Day activities in the Normandy area. She talked about waiting for her opportunity as an adult to one day have Soldiers come to her own place so she could continue the tradition of expressing the gratitude of Soldiers on behalf of her family lineage. On this night, Nathalie was very proud.
I tried not to wear my journalist hat very long as I asked both women questions on various topics. I asked how do the elder French people who lived here during the time of war feel about Germans. Both were candid and honest in their answers. They both mentioned how painful it is for many of the elders and their lack of love and forgiveness to the Germans.
But these two young women also expressed that things today are different. They acknowledged that was history, but now they both think of the Germans as their friends – with Angelique admitting how she loved learning how to speak German.
We talked about U.S. and France relations, how it soured after the Iraq War. I admitted that coming here to Normandy both last and this year, has been the most rewarding experience I’ve had as a Soldier. And I was thankful from the bottom of my heart to be amongst people who has kept our legacy alive from generation to generation.
So as we dined and drank, a friendship was forged between people who were once strangers. In this age of modern technology, we were able to exchange e-mail addresses and of course Facebook page information. Anything I can do to preserve the legacy of that Great Generation of Soldiers who liberated the people of Normandy is something that I will proudly do. After all, there are a generation of French people who are doing the same.
Master Sgt. Donald Sparks
SOCEUR Public Affairs Chief