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My first born child, a woman now middle-aged, lives roughly 20 kilometers from the place where so many young Americans drew their last breaths on June 6, 1944, bleeding, dying, and calling for their mothers on the sands of Omaha Beach as the push into Normandy was launched that historic day. Many of those men are buried in the American cemetery perched on the bluffs above that beach, and to walk among those graves is to know to your marrow the meaning of "hallowed ground." It is impossible not to be moved when the chimes in the bell tower send a shimmering rendition of "Taps" over the dead.

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Trump and the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach—Jaime O'Neill

Most younger Americans will draw a blank when they hear the name of this place, but even people with little knowledge of history can't help but feel reverence for those who fought the advancing spectre of international fascism, who died in defense of democracy and the decencies being swept aside by the barbarism of the Third Reich in Germany, the Franco forces in Spain, and the might of Mussolini in Ethiopia, and in his own country.

On a visit to that cemetery more than a dozen years ago, I found myself feeling embarrassed by the picture of George W. Bush on the wall at the visitor center, a visage that seemed incongruous in such a setting.

On a visit to that cemetery more than a dozen years ago, I found myself feeling embarrassed by the picture of George W. Bush on the wall at the visitor center, a visage that seemed incongruous in such a setting. Bush, after all, was a none-too-bright rich man's son who had dodged service in the war his generation had been sent to fight, who'd gone AWOL from his cushy Air National Guard slot, and then had lived long enough to send another generation's sons to fight and die in a war launched by lies, a war begun with "shock and awe" not long after that picture was hung on the U.S. government facility in Normandy.

The Iraq war was unpopular in France. This was the time when Republican members of Congress decided it was time to change "French fries" to "Freedom fries," when right wing pundits were calling the French "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." This was the time when President Bush was chiding the French for not having a word for "entrepreneur."

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The people of Normandy have kept the memory of the armies that liberated them. Village after village bears a monument expressing gratitude to those who fought and died on French soil. When I visit there, my telltale mangling of simple French words marks me as an American to the French who have heard that accent as returning vets come to revisit the place where so many of their comrades died. Each time my nationality was noted, the recognition was accompanied by clear signs of affection, including from an old woman who blew kisses from the balcony of her apartment when I called to ask directions and then affirmed that I was, as she had asked, an Americain.

But the respect and affection for America purchased so dearly is drying up and receding around the world, and I think now of that cold beach in winter, knowing that in January the picture of President Obama will be replaced on the wall of the Omaha Beach visitor center with the photo of Donald J. Trump, a man almost unimaginably remote from leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower.

People from all over the globe who come to Normandy to honor the price paid by those long-dead Americans will filter out from the visitor center to the resting places of the myriad dead, passing under the gaze of a new American president, and as they do, they will, perhaps, imagine the earth moving as those young men turn over in their graves in that sprawling cemetery which is and will always remain a piece of the United States. The president-elect, it should be remembered, was given a Purple Heart by a vet who had earned it the hard way, and Trump's response had been to say he'd always wanted one.

But the picture of this new American President—on that wall, in that place—will be difficult for many visitors to reconcile with the values and the sacrifice honored on that hallowed ground.

jaime oneill

Jaime O'Neill