In August, my family and I went on a trip to France, and we visited the World War II D-Day sites in Normandy.
“D-Day” of course is the term often used to refer to the landing operations on June 6, 1944, in Normandy—the Allied invasion.
We visited some major D-Day sites, including Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, as well as some sites in little French towns whose names I don’t dare try to pronounce, lest any French speakers among our listeners have to rip their earphone from their ears.
It was a fascinating day—awe-inspiring. It’s hard to grasp the magnitude of what happened there in June 1944. So much planning, so much courage, so much sacrifice.
I’ve spoken often about my “America feeling,” and no surprise, I experienced the America feeling over and over as we visited the sites.
But something that’s true for me is that I feel ideas most deeply when they come to me through words. I can visit places, I can see things, but in the end, it’s writing that strikes me to the core.
And that’s what happened in Normandy.
I felt my America feeling most strongly, to the point that I couldn’t stop the tears coming into my eyes, when I came across a reproduction pamphlet called “A Pocket Guide to France.” This was a small, light, pocket-sized pamphlet, which (as it said) was a restricted guide issued by the War and Navy Departments in Washington, D.C. for soldiers going to France. Apparently similar pamphlets were given to soldiers headed to other countries, as well.
I’m always intrigued by documents like this—how they’re written and designed—so I started reading it. I expected it to be full of bureaucratic, stuffy, approved-by-military-committee language, so I was at first surprised by its casual, slangy language—it was obviously written so that lots of young soldiers would find it easy to read. It had several typos, so I suspect it was written in haste, to be ready in time.
The brief guide included sections on the history of France, the organization of French society, the food, helpful phrases and how to pronounce them, and the like. The guide also admonished the soldiers (at some length) to stay out of various kinds of mischief.
And here’s what really caught my eye—and gave me the America feeling.
It was in a section headed, “You Are a Guest of France,” where the guide addresses a question that would obviously be of great concern to the U.S. solders: How would the French people view Americans? Here’s what the guide said:
Mostly, the French think Americans always act square, always give the little follow a helping hand and are good-natured, big hearted, and kind. They look up to the United States as the friend of the oppressed and the liberator of the enslaved. The French trust both you and your country more than they do most other men and nations. Keep that trust.
What a beautiful conception of the United States, my big-hearted country. I hope we will always keep that trust.