In observance of Memorial Day, we’re re-running a Vantage Viewpoints article from August 2016. It’s by Vantage Founder and CEO Henry Lewis and tells the story of his father’s part in the D-Day landings, and afterwards. He also describes how he came full circle by taking his own children to the spot where his father’s platoon landed in Normandy, so they could help remember and honor the legacy of the soldiers who fought and died for our freedom, almost 75 years ago this June.
Here, in brief, is my dad’s story: Edward Lewis was drafted into the Army in 1943 from his home in Boston’s working-class Dorchester neighborhood. After boot camp and initial training, he found himself in England, where he became one of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers training for Operation Overlord — the Normandy invasion. His machine gun platoon was part of the 1st Battalion, 119th Infantry Regiment. And, although they landed a week after the initial assault, before his war was over he and his fellow soldiers would fight their way across France, into Belgium and on to Germany and the Nazi surrender.
Within a month of landing, Cpl. Lewis would be awarded the Bronze Star for heroic achievement in France, after his platoon became scattered by heavy enemy shelling. He quickly rallied his disorganized men and led them forward to rejoin their rifle company. He then directed their machine gun fire, enabling his company to drive back the enemy and take a key position. He was 22 years old.
My dad and his fellow soldiers went on to fight in many more battles, but perhaps none so grim as their part in the Battle of the Bulge, when the 1st Battalion stopped a ferocious German assault in the bitter December cold of Bastogne, Belgium. The battalion would be cited for Battle Honors for fighting off three enemy counterattacks despite being badly decimated, with many officers killed or wounded. My dad would come out of Bastogne with a Purple Heart and a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant. Today, his medals sit on my desk and the official citations of his awards are framed on my office wall.
As proud as I am of my father and his service, I know he was just one of many thousands of heroes who left their homes and families to fight for freedom. Many of you, I know, also had fathers, grandfathers, other relatives, and family friends who fought in World War II, whether in Europe or the Pacific, and that you grew up with the kind of stories that I did. And perhaps like me, you made yourself a vague promise to one day go to Normandy to honor those soldiers and that time of heroism.
It wasn’t until after my father died, however, that I realized that I had let too much time slip away, and that if my generation didn’t take responsibility for passing along the legacy of our World War II heroes, our memory of the incredible sacrifices they made would fade away. That’s why in 2013 my wife Tricia, my children Jackie and Nick, and I went Normandy. Unless you’ve been there yourself, I don’t think I can begin to convey how moving it was to walk on the very beach where my father’s regiment came ashore on June 13, 1944, or to see those perfectly straight rows of white headstones above the more than 6,000 dead in the Normandy American Cemetery. And to realize that when my father’s regiment landed, Edward Lewis was younger than my own daughter Jackie at the time of our visit to Normandy.
It was also during my visit that I made another promise to myself: I would share this experience with as many other Americans as I could. That’s when our Seine river cruise team in France and I began working to make the Normandy D-Day landing beaches the centerpiece of our new Normandy and the D-Day Beaches river cruise.
After my experience, I understood how it important it is for all of us to honor and remember our D-Day heroes, and I wanted make sure that every American family would have the same opportunity that mine did. That’s why we arranged a full day on the D-Day Landing beaches, with visits to Pointe du Hoc, where Army Rangers scaled the sheer cliffs in a now-legendary assault, to Omaha Beach, where so many died coming ashore, and to the Normandy American Cemetery, where we take part in a solemn wreath-laying ceremony. And, just as importantly, we made sure this river voyage would be a superb value.
I know that I will be forever grateful that I made that pilgrimage with my family to honor my father and the other American heroes of World War II. If you’ve made that trip yourself, you know what I mean. If not, you owe it to yourself and your family to go, and you owe it to all those thousands of American heroes who gave so much, to ensure sure that the memory of their sacrifice is not lost to future generations.
Henry R. Lewis
Founder & CEO
Vantage Deluxe World Travel