Traveling with the Mark Twain International Chorale, Maynard Blackwood revisited Omaha Beach in Normandy for the first time in 63 years. Maynard was a soldier in the 6th Engineer Special Brigade that landed on Omaha Beach June 5, 1944.
The ceremony began with the playing of The Star Spangled Banner followed by Taps. Choir Director Dr. Dan O’Donnell, read a copy of the speech delivered at his site by President Reagan on June 6, 1984 commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. Following the reading, the Mark Twain Chorale sang a Memorial Concert including Amazing Grace, Battle Hymn of the Republic, America the Beautiful, The Lord’s Prayer and, American Heroes, ending with The Lord Bless You and Keep You.
The Mark Twain International Chorale is a volunteer group under the direction of Dr. Dan O’Donnell. It is composed of folks from Northeastern Missouri and a few singers from Iowa and Illinois. This year’s tour to France, Belgium and Holland was the choir’s sixth International Tour. Choir members from the immediate Edina area are Brent and Rita Karhoff, JoAnne Layman, Gail Doss and Lila Hilgeford.
After the concert, Maynard spoke briefly about his memories as a former soldier returning to Omaha Beach. Excerpts from his oration include describing a monument erected on Omaha Beach in Memory of the 6th Engineer Special Brigade.
"This Memorial is dedicated to all members of this command who lived and fought and died for the cause of freedom," Maynard said. "I recalled, at the age of 19, just how scared I was as I waded ashore realizing that this was not a training exercise. This was the real thing entering a combat zone. Reflecting on that day, I realize my life was spared for a purpose. I’m not here as a hero. The military personnel buried in Veterans Cemeteries on foreign soil are the real heroes."
The Normandy American Cemetery is one of 14 permanent American World War II Military Cemeteries constructed on foreign soil by the Battle Monuments Commission.
Interred at the Normandy Cemetery are the remains of 9,387 service men and women. Three hundred and seven are unknowns, three Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and four women. Also buried side by side are father and son and 38 pairs of brothers. Each grave is marked with a white marble headstone, a Star of David for the Jewish faith and a Latin Cross for all others.
Behind the Memorial structure is the Garden of the Missing. Its wall contains the names of 1,557 missing in the region who gave their lives in the service of their country but whose remains have not been recovered or, if recovered, have not been identified.
A time capsule to be opened June 6, 2944 is embedded in the lawn directly opposite the entrance of the Visitor’s Building. On the slab covering the capsule the following statement in inscribed, "In memory of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the forces under his command this sealed capsule containing news reports of the June 6, 1944 Normandy landing is placed here by the newsmen who were there." June 6, 1969.
The service men and women interned in this cemetery came from all fifty states and the District of Columbia. A small number also came from England, Scotland and Mexico.