Well, today is May 8, 2019. In about 20 days, I will fly out of Dallas to join a group of United States pipers and drummers and together we’ll spend 12 days in Belgium, Luxembourg and France as members of the official Freedom Trip 2019 band. Our purpose is to provide a pipe and drum band presence at a number of WWII memorial events being held to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-day. Our performances will culminate on June 6, 2019 at a D-day service on the grounds of the Brittney American Cemetery and Memorial in Saint-James, Normandy, France. This cemetery is where over 4,400 American soldiers, who never returned home, are laid to rest.
For me, this will be a once in a lifetime “bucket-list” experience. I’ll be able to take part in official ceremonies at sites such as Jack’s Woods (where the Battle of the Bulge took place), Sainte-Mére Église and Normandy where the allied troops made their D-day invasion. It is also an incredible honor for me to be part of the Freedom Trip 2019 pipe and drum band. This band is made up entirely of fire and police professionals from across the nation. For many of us, we will begin the trip hardly knowing each other yet sharing the incredible honor of coming together to pay tribute to our WWII heroes on the same soil where they fought relentlessly for freedom and ultimately changed the course of world history during a very dark time. By the end of this trip, those who are already referring to us as a “Band of Brothers” will probably be correct.
I knew the minute I learned of the opportunity to be a part of this group, that it was something I should and needed to experience. Since I made that commitment a year ago, I’ve spent a good deal of time reading and watching documentaries on WWII and in particular the events leading up to June 6, 1944. I have also noted with disappointment how many Americans, especially young Americans today, are shockingly unfamiliar with even the most basic WWII facts. Not long ago, I was telling a young, highly educated medical professional at my doctor’s office about the trip and when I mentioned D-day, she looked puzzled and asked, “What’s that?” I did my best to explain it in a nutshell. After that, I simply encouraged her to do a little Googling on WWII and watch “Saving Private Ryan”.
Anyway, I’m not meaning to sound judgmental, I’m bringing up our nation’s fading memory of the war as a sad fact, not a judgement. I include myself as someone who could have and should have educated myself more years ago. For those of us who didn’t experience WWII first-hand it’s a tough time in history to wrap your mind around. But I will say this. After spending months watching, reading and soaking up a lot of information, the knowledge has changed me. I have always respected and admired those who serve/served in the military but now, after having immersed myself in some WWII history, I simply don’t have the words to describe the depth of gratitude I feel for those soldiers. The tremendous sacrifices they made, their bravery and courage, all the individual stories, all the pain and triumphs seem alive in me somehow in a whole new way.
So, in the hopes of taking one or two of you along with me on my Freedom Trip 2019 experience, I am going to try to journal my time leading up to and including my time “over there”. It’s important to me to attempt to share what I anticipate will be an emotional mixed bag of sadness, triumph, disbelief, respect and pride. I am confident Freedom Trip 2019 is going to open my eyes and I hope you will read along and share in this WWII experience as well.
PS The photo above is of WWII Scottish Bagpiper/Hero John Millin. More on him later.