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by Howard Kleinberg

Howard Kleinberg, a former editor of the Miami News, is a columnist for Cox Newspapers. This is an article on a visit to the cemetery in Normandy at the D-Day Beaches. I think it's absolutely wonderful and asked Howard's permission to post it. It's from Sunday, June 2, 1996


Since my days as an impressionable juvenile during World War II, I have come to think of D-Day, the June 6, 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy, as one of the most important dates in the history of the world.
My passion about D-Day followed me to adulthood and what I saw as a parental obligation. On each anniversary of the milestone, I compelled our four children to listen to an audio tape of the rousing music from the motion picture "The Longest Day." A lecture about the significance of the Normandy invasion usually followed.
Eventually, I made a pilgrimage to the landing beaches.
It came on a hazy Sunday dawn almost 20 summers ago, just about the same time of day the morning fog lifted in 1944 and the massive invasion fleet exposed itself to German binoculars.
With a wailing foghorn in the unseen distance adding unexpected effect, there I was, standing on the same sands upon which the great Allied armies came ashore that long ago morning 52 years ago this week.
The emotion of the moment was unparalleled _ until an hour later when I reached the American cemetery on the heights above the beaches.
There, the rows of white granite crosses and stars of David overwhelmed me. The thousands buried there did not all fall on D-Day; others lost their lives later, but all in the same exalted cause.
This, indeed, was a field of honor.
As I stared out across the rows, my mind recalled a Jewish tradition of placing a rock or pebble on the headstones of the graves. Its purpose, simply, is to signify that someone came and paid his or her respects. To comply with that ancestral tradition, my wife and I scavenged the grounds to find stones to place atop the headstones.
We did as many as we could, as time allowed, with tears streaming down our faces.
We returned last summer but this time with our 13-year-old grandson. It was imperative that, in addition to seeing the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris and Monet's garden in Giverny, he also know about the landing beaches and those who gave their lives that day and in subsequent days.
It was something I felt his generation might be forgetting about.
As we reached the hallowed grounds, I began bending over to pick up pebbles. I wanted to repeat what I had done long ago and wanted my grandson to share in it with me.
Unlike my first visit, there were signs posted to keep off the grass and remain on the footpaths unless going to a specific grave. This most likely was the result of the increased hordes of visitors to the cemetery, and I understand the need for it.
Normally observant of rules and regulations, I nevertheless paid no attention to these.
Emotion and duty had hold of me.
My grandson, my wife and I wandered across the poignant lawn, placing pebbles atop the headstones, reading the names of the fallen soldiers, noting their ages at death, and their home states.
A man dressed in a coat and tie approached us. He obviously was a cemetery authority and was seeking to enforce the regulations. ``Excuse me,'' he asked quietly, ``have you a relative buried here?''
``No, sir,'' I answered politely, rolling the pebbles in my hand.
``Then perhaps you are looking for someone in particular.''
``No, sir,'' I responded.
``Then is there someone here whom you know?''
``Yes,'' I told him.
``And who might that be?''
``All of them.''
He paused for a moment, looking at the determination in my face.
``I see,'' he said, and graciously withdrew, leaving the three of us to fulfill our objective.
I appreciated his gesture, as I am sure he was appreciating ours.
For my grandson, it was a moment he says he will never forget.
Mission accomplished.

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