Remembering D-Day heroism on Memorial Day

Sarah Sweeney May 26, 2021

A story from Vantage founder and chairman Henry R. Lewis

On this Memorial Day, I wanted to share my dad’s World War II 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.

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 just 22 years old.

My dad and his fellow soldiers went on to fight in many more battles, perhaps none as grim as 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, my father’s 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, so you probably 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.

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 I, along with my wife Tricia and my children Jackie and Nick, 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 at the time of our visit to Normandy

And it was during this visit that I made another promise to myself: I would share this experience with as many other Americans as I could. Since that day, our worldwide team and I have made Normandy’s D-Day beaches the centerpiece of many journeys, such as our new forthcoming cruise, Ports of Timeless Wonder: London, Normandy & Scandinavian Gems.

We've 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.

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 that the memory of their sacrifice is not lost to future generations.

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