Project Vigil: D-Day 2014, The Saluting Boy On Omaha Beach
On June 6th, 2014, my 11 year old son wanted to say thank you to the soldiers who fought and died on Omaha beach on D-Day morning 70 years earlier. This is how he did it.
In June 2014 my 11 year old son and I went to Normandy, France, for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. As part of his personal remembrance project called “Project vigil,” my son spent four days in the American Cemetery, teaching visitors about three paratroopers buried there.
On D-Day, June 6th, the Local police wouldn’t let him enter the cemetery, so he took his 48 star WWII era American flag down to Omaha beach and planted his homemade flagpole firmly in the sand. All he wanted to do was say thank you to the young American who fought and dies on that beach exactly 70 years earlier.
Together we unfurled the falg into the wind, where it whipped and snapped with such force that he strained to hold it steady.
When he turned his gaze to the English Channel, he saw a vision of the spirits of our infantry soldiers heading for the shore on D-Day morning. He was so moved, he raised his hand to salute them. And for a moment, he was just a little boy with a flag, standing alone on a beach in Normandy. He held the flag and his salute for an hour and a half.
As he stood there saluting, he quietly hummed the old songs his heroes would have loved. While he hummed Glenn Miller’s “American Patrol,” he thought of the young infantrymen who held that cheerful song so dearly in their hearts, as they lived the final moments of their lives.
And as he imagined their lives ending in violent, horrible deaths upon the same of “BloodyOmaha” as he stood, he began to cry.
He briefly broke his salute to wipe those tears away.
After a while, people began to come down to the water to see the saluting boy.
Children approached to see if he was real. Some teased him to try to break his concentration; others wanted to havbe their picture taken with him.
Then came the TV news.
But he didn’t smile. His eyes remained fixed on the image of the spirits of our soldiers coming ashore.
When the tide crept in, he refused to retreat a single step.
Members of our Armed Forces encouraged him.
Our Veterans saluted him.
And then a lone trumpeter joined him in his vigil.
After and hour had passed, his knees began to weaken and the muscles in his arms and hands began to cramp, but he didn’t want to leave the beach. He stayed strong . . . for them, and for their memory.
Then came the moment when he raised his right had, signaled to me that he was ready to say goodbye.
I took the flag and he collapsed in my arms.
As I held him, I was struck by a deep sadness for all the mothers and fathers who never had the chance to comfort their sons in June 1944.
There was once an 11 year old boy standing alone on Omaha beach. In his left hand he held the most beautiful flag in the world. In his heart he held the flame alight for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. In his soul he held the future of the American ideal.
Special thanks to the trumpeter from the D-Day 70 Memorial Wind Band for his spontaneous and generous act of kindness, and to the two fine soldiers of the Big Red One, who joined us in the folding of the flag.