In truth, it was six years before Jade and Ellen would again leave their home country in search of culture and adventure. Domestic travels and carreer paths took precedence in those years, until Jade could no longer accept what she considered to be cultural stagnance. By then she was in her second year of a demanding graduate school program, and working part time in her field as well. Jade happened to attend a related international club meeting, where the faculty mentor described an internship position. Instantly Jade knew that was her ticket, and she emailed the professor as soon as she got home from the evening meeting. Over the next nine months, everything fell into place, and Jade found herself packing for a four month summer internship at the US Embassy in Brussels, Belgium.
Naturally, Jade’s parents were very concerned with details; things like where Jade would live and how would she get around. They also were extremely worried that she didn’t know anyone there and hadn’t studied French or Flemish. But Jade could not be bothered with these pesky little particulars – she spoke Spanish and had a couple books on French. She could learn it on the plane ride, she was sure. And she knew where to go, even had arranged to housesit for an American family living off base in the city for 5 weeks of her stay. Everything would work out fine, and honestly, Jade could not for the life of her figure out what all the stress her parents seemed to feel was about. After all, it was Europe, not some third world country. And she would be working at the American Embassy. It wasn’t like she was Christiane Amanpour reporting live from the front lines of a remote warzone.
And so, with a moment or two’s hesitation as she boarded the plane, Jade was off. On her domestic connection, she plugged in her French CD and pulled out the guide. By the time she reached the international wing in Dulles after checking on her luggage, Jade still had four hours before her next departure. So she settled herself into a moderately comfy chair at the gate and cozied up to the used French English Dictionary she had purchased. She was happily reading away, when an old man sitting next to her broke into her reverie.
“I can teach you all the French you need to know,” he said. Now, generally speaking, Jade had a bit of a soft spot for old men that reminded her of her grandfather. But even more innate to Jade was her preference not to be bothered. Especially when very obviously reading. She tried to blatantly ignore the man, but he was a persistent old coot, and just kept on talking to her. As she reluctantly emerged from her self imposed isolation, Jade noticed that the man was wearing one of those old army caps, the ones that list whatever division he had been in. She also began to realize, as the elderly man spoke very Americanized French to her, that he was travelling with his son and two grandsons. Now, astute though Jade was, she rarely had time to spare on others, particularly people she either didn’t know or didn’t care about, so at the time she paid very little attention to these details. But her interest was instantly piqued when the older gentleman casually stated, “I haven’t spoken French since I was in France sixty years ago.”
“Sixty years ago was 1944, right before D-Day.” Jade quickly replied, rather dryly. She rather fancied the old guy full of it, but he didn’t seem to take offense.
“That’s right. I arrived in France on June 6th, 1944.” He stated, somewhat quietly.
“Do you mean to tell me you took one of the beaches?” Jade was now bordering incredulous.
“Omaha,” he said, and that was all the proof she needed. “You seem to know a bit about it,” he added, almost as a question.
Jade was quieter, respectful, when she answered. “Not as much as I would like, only some of the dates and I really like Band of Brothers, you know that miniseries that chronicles the missions of Easy Company.”
“You know Easy Company? “ he sounded somewhat impressed. “I fought with Easy Company under Patton’s command at Bastogne.”
“You took Omaha on D-Day and you fought in the Battle of the Bulge?” Jade could no longer mask the awe in her voice.
“That’s right.” The old man said. “Not many people your age know much about World War II.”
“Well,” Jade had some difficulty describing her feeling about it, “it seems to me that that was the era when America stepped up, to do what had to be done, because it was the right thing to do, the only thing to do. We had our own problems then, but so many men went to war, because they had to, and I happen to think they saved the world. I truly have the utmost respect for their sacrifice, and I think of it as the Golden Age of our country. My grandfather got really sick in basic, and was in a hospital bed for most of the war, but he has that same backbone. That sense of doing what’s necessary. He’s a really good man, and I know that World War II is part of that. It’s part of that entire generation. Even my grandmother, his wife, had to give up going to college to work in one of the factories. She told me about it once, she said that was what we had to do.”
They chatted a bit more, and then the old man’s family required his attention again, and Jade went back to her French book. Only several days later would she understand why the men were travelling together. On the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, France awarded 99 American veterans the French Medal of Honor – their highest honor. All of the veterans were survivors of D-Day. The old man had been one of them, and there to see him walk across that stage and accept his Medal of Honor were his son and his grandsons. Jade understood, on some level, what this man’s sacrifice meant to her country and to France, and she hoped that his grandsons were as proud of him and as in awe of his service as she would ever remain.