- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2000

High on the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach, white headstones stand in eternal formation. The American Cemetery at Normandy is home to 9,386 Americans, who gave their lives in combat during World War II.

Neat rows of crosses and Stars of David cover 172 manicured acres, intersected by paths that form a Latin cross. Nearby, a chapel stands watch. To the east rises a beautiful, semicircular memorial of granite and limestone. Just beyond are a garden and the Tablets of the Missing on which are engraved the names of 1,557 men, whose remains have never been recovered or identified.

The memorial faces west the direction from which all of the fallen came and overlooks a reflecting pool and two flagpoles bearing the Stars and Stripes. In the center of the memorial, easily visible from the overlook, soars a 22-foot bronze statue, "The Spirit of American Youth," reaching for the heavens. This heroic figure evokes a poignant sense of loss, a grieving for the stolen potential of thousands of young Americans plucked in the bloom of their youth.

The American Cemetery at Normandy memorializes our gratitude for these men who selflessly served the nation. It embraces our sons from every state, several territories, and even a few from Allied nations who fought under our flag. Here we honor those who fought in World War II; but there are other cemeteries like this around the world, sheltering the remains of Americans who fought and died for America in each of its wars.

We live in a country that has set aside two days to honor its men and women in uniform. Veterans Day celebrates those who served our nation and returned home to their loved ones. On Memorial Day, we honor those who served and gave their lives for us. In Lincoln's words, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this." These soldiers followed in the honored memory of the tens of thousands who passed before them young Americans all from every corner of the country, volunteers and draftees, who answered the call of duty.

Memorial Day is a day about our servicemen and women about the sons and daughters of America, who served something greater than themselves the ideals and people of this great nation. It is about soldiers who went before today's youngsters to fight in wars because their nation asked them to do so. And most especially, it is about those who did not return home to enjoy the bounties of peace and freedom in the nation they had so honorably served.

Over the doorway of the chapel in Normandy Cemetery is an inscription that reminds us of their sacrifice: "These endured all and gave all that justice among nations might prevail and that mankind might enjoy freedom and inherit peace."

On this Memorial Day, let us pause in earnest remembrance of all those who sacrificed themselves that we might enjoy the fruits of justice and freedom and peace.

Eric Shinseki is chief of staff of the U.S. Army.

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