Night Falls on Omaha Beach

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Coquelicot

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On this July night, the sky gradually darkens and covers the seventy hectares of the American cemetery with its black veil. 
It has been a splendid day; the air is laden with the soft scents of holm oaks, elms and polyantha roses which mingle with the smell of black pines, laurels and cypresses.

Here I am, in one of the squares of tombstones arranged in perfect straight lines. I look at our crosses, white, superb, rising proudly from these verdant, impeccable lawns.
I am happy and proud.
My nine thousand, three hundred and eighty-six companions have grown quiet, perhaps they are thinking of all those visitors who have come to see them and left with their souls permeated and moved by this place, so solemn and silent.

This evening, I am keeping watch...

I may have been sorry for a while to have been buried far from my homeland, my family, and my friends, but now I am filled with a peace that will last for ever. I died young, twenty-two years is not much of a life!
I did not have time to start a family, but I did know love, a marvellous thing.
I did not achieve all my dreams, all those ships I would have liked to command, all those seas and far-flung countries I would have liked to discover.
I left behind me so much unfinished reading, interrupted music, and friends loved too fast.

I have known the unforgettable comradeship of my fellow soldiers...
I have lived through indescribable times of unique experience and of harshness...
I had time to write to my parents that I loved them and to thank them for the riches they passed on to me, which were fundamental...
That letter, I know they received it, and that it was important to them. It gave them the strength to bear my absence, the courage to remain dignified and the first hint of meaning to what seems so absurd.

Twenty-two years, short years, yet so full. 
For many days I rubbed shoulders with the hell of war, the barbarity of battle, the aberration of conflicts, until the final explosion when flames were succeeded by night. I was killed, felled by a terrible shell that nothing could stop.

Now, calm has returned, I can see once more, I can think, smile and hum a tune, but no living soul can see me.

Above all else, you visitors to Omaha Beach, don’t be sad for us. We are serene and proud to lie here. We are not alone and we share in death what united us in life: a love of liberty, the enjoyment of comradeship and pride in our country.

Nevertheless, tonight, as night fell on Omaha Beach, I made a solemn promise, before all those stars sparkling in the sky, to pray every day for peace.

Translated by Wendy Cross

412

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