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Not Soon Forgotten This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.


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The events of September 11 made many look at freedom differently, since these attacks indirectly assaulted our freedom. But what about World War II? It was only 60 years ago. Wasn't our freedom assaulted then? Many hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in that war; weren't they also sacrificed for freedom? How could so many Americans forget what our freedom cost?

The memory of freedom's cost has dimmed because our generation has not experienced it. Sure, we've seen pictures and heard stories, but we have never truly visualized it. In comparison, our generation saw the September 11 attacks minute by minute. They were very real. At the same time,it's easy to think of these attacks as just another movie. It was just that,wasn't it? I used to think so too, but a trip to Europe changed my perspective.

My family toured several war museums because my brother and I are intrigued with old tanks and planes. We discovered stories about the soldiers, and read their letters to loved ones that talked about the horrors of the battlefields. I also read about how soldiers were saved from a bullet because it hit a pocket Bible or a canteen. But they're just stories, aren't they?

At one of the museums we watched a film. Imagine the opening sequence of "Saving Private Ryan" - German planes and machine-gun batteries tearing apart the allied troops - just a movie, right? Now imagine the footage in black and white, with flashes of machine-gun fire, and narration explaining that the film was recovered from a German aircraft. It was a shock that this was not a movie. It really happened.

After seeing the footage, I knew these images would stay with me forever. I also knew that my view of WWII was changing. I started connecting those survival stories with real people; I imagined a brother, a son, a father or husband writing a letter home or showing a friend the canteen with a bullet in it. They weren't just stories anymore; they had real faces. War can seem so impersonal, which I think is one of the reasons why our generation has been separated from World War II.

My family also visited the American cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. It was overcast that day, and a cool breeze was coming off the ocean. I walked to the memorial and was filled with sadness. Over 9,000 American soldiers are buried at that beachhead. Those men fought bravely and sacrificed their lives for freedom. I saw row after row of crosses and Stars of David, and that image is forever etched in my mind. We have a black and white photograph that captured the feelings of that day. The sky is gray over endless rows of perfectly aligned graves - the photograph is both calming and disturbing.

In another part of that cemetery is a huge white marble wall honoring the missing in action; soldiers whose only true graves are the field where they perished. Later, my parents told me there were separate memorials for the French, Belgian and German soldiers. It is an unspeakable evil that requires so many memorials to honor the dead.

After visiting the Normandy beaches, World War II is no longer just images from movies or stories from a book. It is real. There were men in that"film," those markers were their graves. And those men who wrote letters to their loved ones or survived a bullet, those graves were for their friends and countrymen.

When I got home, I told my friends about my experience. They were touched, but I don't think they really understood. They didn't walk through the German bunkers or see the thousands of graves. As I walked through those abandoned bunkers, I couldn't even imagine the amount of courage it took to charge the German position with all those cannons pounding the beaches. I can only hope I could have such courage under fire.

A generation is being formed by September 11, and changes are happening. The generation that witnessed Pearl Harbor and was changed by that war is almost gone, and it will be up to our generation to make sure Pearl Harbor and September 11 are not forgotten. With the one-year anniversary of September 11 long past, I realize that those who were killed gave their lives for the same freedom as the Allied troops at Normandy. But unlike the soldiers, the victims of September 11 made their sacrifice unknowingly. Regardless, they died on the altar of freedom. Freedom is not free. It has a price that is not easily paid, and should not be easily forgotten. And that is something we all need to remember.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the April 2003 Teen Ink Travel Contest.





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