In Advance of Memorial Day

We’re at the start of a 3-day weekend, Deac families (the university will be closed on Monday in observance of Memorial Day, though I have pre-scheduled our Monday Meet A Deac).

For much of my early life, Memorial Day was sort of an abstract concept. I knew it was about the military and those who had died in service to our country. My dad had been a Marine for a year or two long before I was born, but I was not from a military family proper and didn’t have other friends who were, so Memorial Day did not resonate with me – yet.

During the fall of my junior year, I went abroad in Wake’s Dijon, France program. One of the excursions our faculty member took our class on was to Normandy and to the D-day beaches. As soon as my classmates and I stepped onto that hallowed ground, the meaning of Memorial Day – soldiers, sacrifice, loss, and reverence – became absolutely clear.

The US Cemetery at Normandy is stunningly beautiful. It overlooks the water, with perfect rows of seemingly endless graves of American soldiers. As my classmates and I walked through and read some of the tombstones, we realized many of the soldiers were our age. That hit home.

Normandy was one of the most painful but important learning moments of my time at Wake Forest. I don’t know what will be your students’ transformative moments while at Wake, but surely they will have some that will change them profoundly and completely.

They had leaflets at the memorial site – and one of them was this prayer below in French. My once-good French is now rusty and I won’t try to translate it here lest I get it wrong. Roughly, the prayer asks God to tell us how to hold in our hands the sand of our lives; how to hold on to the past the right way; how to hold on to the present without being absorbed by it; and  how not to dread the future. The final stanza says [roughly] “God of the past, the present, and the future, help us every day to discover you.”

I’ve carried this in my wallet since the fall of 1990.

For the memory of the soldiers in Normandy who helped me learn about Memorial Day, as well as all the other US soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice (and their families), we honor you this weekend, and always.

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)

dday beach final

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