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The Full Suburban: Honoring the sacrifices made on D-Day and beyond

UPDATED: Sun., Nov. 7, 2021

By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

Logan and I, along with Logan’s brother and his wife, took the trip of a lifetime two years ago when we spent eight days in France and Italy. Of all the things I wanted to do on our trip, absolutely No. 1 on my list was to visit Normandy and the American Cemetery that overlooks Omaha Beach.

I love all things World War II. Two of my grandfathers were soldiers during that time, and while neither of them fought their way up the beaches of Normandy, D-Day is particularly fascinating and poignant to me.

On our second day in France, we rented a car and headed out into the French countryside toward Normandy. Along the way, we stopped to walk around a German gun battery carved into the idyllic town of Merville-Franceville.

The nefarious concrete bunkers tunneled into the earth just steps away from ancient cottages was a jarring juxtaposition. I tried to imagine the terror the residents must have felt during those days with the enemy quite literally at their doorstep and their entire town a target because of it.

We continued on our way, arriving at the American Cemetery in the late afternoon, an intentional move on our part so we would be there to witness the lowering of the flag and the playing of taps. Usually a boisterous, joke-loving group, we felt a reverent hush fall over us the moment we walked into the cemetery. We knew we were standing on hallowed ground.

On the morning of June 6, 1944, 13,000 Allied paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines, and another 150,000 soldiers invaded by sea. These men tumbled out of boats and planes and into a scene that was more horrifying and hopeless than any of their worst nightmares.

Low counts estimate that 4,414 didn’t survive the day. Thousands more would lose their lives in ensuing battles. The American Cemetery contains the graves of 9,386 soldiers, a solemn reminder of the sacrifices that were made on D-Day and beyond.

As we walked among the rows of brilliant white headstones that seemed to stretch on forever, I thought not only of the men buried there, but also of the families they left back home. How many fathers, mothers, wives and children never made it to Normandy to visit the final resting place of their loved ones?

So why did they do it? Why did these soldiers give their lives for people they didn’t know in a country to which they had no connection? What was worth that kind of sacrifice?

On that day in 1944, half a world away in the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a radio broadcast where he asked Americans to join him in prayer for those who were at that very moment fighting their way onto the shores of France.

“They fight not for the lust of conquest,” he said. “They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance, and goodwill, among all … people.” That’s why they did it.

Logan served as a missionary for two years in France in the late 1990s. People of the older generation would sometimes come up to him to shake his hand and thank him for what the Americans had done for them all those years ago, their debt of gratitude still burning brightly decades later.

Do we still feel that debt of gratitude for our freedom? Or have we grown so used to it that we’ve taken it for granted?

This Thursday is Veterans Day. Instead of merely thanking a veteran for his or her service, I hope we will honor their sacrifices by being the best citizens we can be. If they fought for my freedom so that I can enjoy living my life, I’d better live it in the best way possible.

I’d better show a little more kindness to those around me. I’d better stand up for someone who is being oppressed. I’d better lighten someone’s burden, build up instead of tear down and do whatever I can to make my little sliver of this great country shine as brightly as it possibly can.

“They did not know it was impossible, so they just did it,” said Olivier Paz, onetime mayor of Merville-Franceville, of the Allied troops who captured that German gun battery against all odds on D-Day.

I hope we’ll all take a similar attitude in doing what we can to heal our divided nation. It might seem impossible, but it’s the very least we can do to show our veterans our debt of gratitude.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at

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