05/28/2012 03:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

They Gave Their Best

Back in my Air Force Brat childhood, Memorial Day was a day to go to the flight line and see an air show, tour our dad's offices, and eat a lot of ice cream. The men of my father's generation were stalwart, laconic men of few illusions. Most of them had served in Korea, and many had seen combat in Vietnam as well.

My father retired in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam Conflict, and at that time, overt commemorations of Memorial Day were rare. Considering the polarization of the country over the merits of our involvement in Vietnam, and the ambiguity still inhering to our Korean engagement, there was little enthusiasm for civic or private ceremonies.

In 2005, I took my mother and a group of her friends to France during March -- not tourist high season, but a perfect time to visit Paris without a flurry of American tourists blocking our view of the Arc de Triomphe. One of the most anticipated events on our schedule was the day trip to Normandie, to visit the American cemetery at Caen. While walking the grounds at Caen and Omaha Beach, these normally chatty Southern women were awestruck and speechless. Many of us had relatives who fought on these beaches, some surviving, some paying the ultimate sacrifice. I'd like to share two things with you today -- one is a photo I took that day, another is a video of men serving in World War II, with a song by Nora Jones. No other words of mine are worthy of their sacrifice.