CHARLOTTE, NC, June 3, 2014 – With the 70th anniversary of D-Day just a few days away, it should be a time of celebration and heartfelt appreciation. In Normandy, France, where the allied assault occurred on June 6, 1944, that is precisely the perspective. It is the way it is supposed to be.
Yet here, at home, there is a cloud that hovers over one of the greatest military accomplishments in history and the inevitable question we should ask is “Why?”
Just days before a monumental occasion to honor the ultimate sacrifice of thousands of soldiers from all over the world, there should be moments of solitude, prayer, thankfulness, joy and sorrow. There should be a reaching out of hands across the vast Atlantic Ocean to commemorate the victory of freedom and liberty over tyranny.
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True, the celebrations will be grand. The memories will be vivid. There will be feelings of pride and achievement and, for the last time, we will be able to personally thank those who remain for their courage against overwhelming odds.
Why then is there also a pervading sense of melancholy that accompanies the historic events of the day?
Perhaps it is because the current occupant of the White House somehow always manages in his own way to mar an occasion with controversy. Somehow there is always a taint of dispute that bubbles beneath the surface to distract from the true spirit of the moment.
Each day French school children converge by the bus load upon the 50 mile stretch of Normandy coastline where the allied invasion took place. They come to pay tribute to the America that once was, not the America we have become.
French kids learn the history of seven decades ago and they come to understand what “the greatest generation” was all about.
Meanwhile, the President of the United States surrounds the United States, the country that should be the most honored of all, amid a shroud of controversy by negotiating with terrorists for a prisoner release of which the American soldier to be freed may be a deserter.
It is this president who will stand at Omaha Beach on Friday and pay tribute to the men and women who died on its shores. A man not worthy to carry the knapsacks of any one of those who lost their lives in June, 1944.
While traveling through Normandy with no access to radio or television during the last week of May, there was an unrealized catharsis at the deafening absence of the “O” word.
People arrived by the thousands at each Normandy site where there was no politics, no debate, no controversy. There was only reflection and appreciation for what took place there 70 years ago.
During a conversation with a French businessman who was more liberal than conservative in his views, the question was asked what he thought of President Obama. It was a question travelers always pose out of curiosity about how citizens of other countries feel about their own homeland.
The Frenchman hesitated for a moment, not sure how to respond and trying to be statesmanlike since he was uncertain of the opinions of those who asked the question. Though his answer was tactful and diplomatic, it was also profound because it represented the inner beliefs that many Americans today share about our global image.
When I was young, America represented something strong and powerful to the rest of the world. Yes, there were two political parties, but basically they were the same. I mean, they could work together. They could negotiate. They could accomplish things. Ahhh, but most of all, when America stood for something, the world knew that they stood for the right thing.
Today, I do not see that. I see a divided country. It has become far too political. This worries us because a divided America is a weak America. This is not perhaps all the work of Mr. Obama. There must be some blame on both sides, but something is different and the world needs a strong America.
In Europe, we have history. In the United States you have youth and vigor and ideas. We can, and should, learn from each other. We do not always have to agree, but America must be a leader in order for the world to survive.
Though not a condemnation of the U.S., it was not a ringing endorsement of the progress we have made politically since 1944 either.
Come Friday, we cannot change the speaker at Omaha Beach. But we can relish the fact that the children of France who come to the shores of Normandy each day to study their history also learn about an America that represented the best of who we are as a nation.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club(www.MagellanTravelClub.com). Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod