Viewpoint: Waves can’t wash away the sacrifice of WWII vets

Taylor McNamara
Taylor McNamara

By Taylor McNamara
Guest columnist

I realized I know nothing.

Nothing about sacrifice.

Nothing about patriotism.

Standing next to 16 World War II veterans on Omaha Beach for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, I never felt more inadequate in my life.

When I took a semester off from Baylor, I never imagined I would end up here – the beaches in Normandy, France – leading a group of World War II veterans who would change my life. I accompanied these brave soldiers back to the battlegrounds where they laid down their lives. Where they watched their friends fall. Where they suffered. Where they rejoiced. Where they transformed from boys into men.

The moment we stepped onto Omaha Beach, chills ran down my spine as the wind pierced the back of my neck. I imagined a peaceful reunion on a sunny beach – I was wrong. Veterans I know and love fell to their knees. A man I now call Gramps stopped in his tracks as tears rolled down his cheeks – pale as if he saw a ghost. Is it possible for a group of elderly men to emanate such raw emotion?

A heavy fog blurred the line where the sand turned into the sea. Over a mile of beach stretched before us. The 90-year-old men standing next to me today were only my age – no, younger – when they landed here. Twenty-year-olds. Young. Scared. Afraid.

Omaha beach slowly transformed into a battlefield with every step I took. Where the waves broke on the shore, I saw destroyer ships carrying soldiers. When I glanced at the clouds, I saw B12 airplanes deploying paratroopers. Where the seashells rested in the sand, I saw fallen teenagers with entire lives ahead of them. What would it be like to run straight into enemy gunfire? At age 20, my biggest concern was finding a date and a dress for a sorority function. Their biggest concern was dodging bullets and bombs in order to survive. I know nothing. Nothing about hardship. Nothing about fear.

Who knows how many times I studied World War II in school. Who knows how little of that information I retained. All I know is that wars always translated as mere stories in my mind. The harrowing brutality and the painstaking reality of those horrific years in history never registered within me until that day, standing next to these heroes, these friends of mine.

Would I ever choose to exchange my comfort for my country? Trade my home, family and vibrant youth for a uniform, gun and looming death? I question if I have the courage to do what these men did. This breathtaking beach seized thousands of innocent lives, and those lives provided me with the liberty I once took for granted. The 16 veterans I served on this trip represent the value of life and the cost of freedom. The footprints I left in the sand that day may have faded away, but Omaha Beach imprinted the sacrifice of generations before me in my heart forever.

Taylor McNamara is a senior public relations major from Dallas. She is a guest columnist for the Lariat.