That morning I had stopped in a small town along the coast. I got a cappuccino or something of the sort. It looked to be a strong coffee that she—the barista—almost sprayed whip cream into it before I stopped her. I don’t do whipped cream. Even without it, it had been a tasty coffee.
Anyway I explored the town and headed north to the beaches. I parked and continued north. People jogged along
I walked up to the American cemetery. An emotional day became even more intense as I strode through the grave markers.
I don’t care your political persuasion or party affiliation. I don’t care how supportive or unsupportive you’ve been for any particular military conflict. If you’ve not been to a military cemetery, you can’t possibly have an accurate perspective on the numbers of men lost in these conflicts. I thought I could. Four thousand lost equaled the amount of my High School class. Twenty thousand lost totaled the amount of a semi-filled baseball park. However, standing among them—among the dead soldiers—the shocking and amazing numbers make sense.
The world “overwhelm” is used far to often in our society. However, it’s nothing short of overwhelming to see all those graves lined up. So far from home.
And then I saw the numbers.
At first, I assumed they marked the gravesites. They were assigned to give family a way to find their loved and lost or their distant relations. I made note of the #22 on the grave I stood in front of. Later, I supposed, I’d look up that man and keep him as a memory of the day. Next to that grave, the number at the bottom read 19. In front of these was a #20. They were in no order. Random? Then I spied another #22. Another #20. Another #22. A #21. These weren’t designations...these were their ages at their time of death. Twenty, twenty-two. A few were twenty-four years old.
So young. So far from home—I felt so far from home myself—but they’d never return. To their wives, their girlfriends, their families or friends. Thousands of them. Tens of thousands. The overwhelm consumed me. I’ll never forget it.