A glimpse of ultimate sacrifice

GLADSTONE – It took them 30 years, but Jeff and Paula Waeghe finally got the honeymoon trip they longed for – a trip to Paris and London. And one of the highlights of their journey was a visit to Normandy, the sight of the famous invasion by Allied Forces against the Germans during World War II.

The visit was a timely one, taken about a week before the observance of the 60th anniversary of the invasion that began on June 6, 1944.

Although the Waeghes thought it would be nice to attend the official celebration held at Normandy on June 6, they were glad to visit earlier in order to avoid the thousands of dignitaries, guests and media that would have made access to the various venues more difficult to attain.

Jeff and Paula are owners of the Skradski Funeral Home in Gladstone, a business he purchased from its founder, John Skradski, in 1979. The pair worked together until Skradski’s death in 1984.

“We’ve been married 30 years and never went on a honeymoon,” explained Jeff. “John died the day of our marriage and we weren’t able to leave.”

While on their recent trip to Europe, the Waeghes were accompanied by their daughter, Amelia.

It was while they were in Paris that they decided to visit Normandy and during a visit to the American cemetery there, the sight of the 10,000 white crosses side by side in long lines made a tremendous impact on the couple.

“I was never in the service and I appreciate the life I’ve had,” Jeff said. “It’s a life I never could have had without the sacrifice of those who died to keep this country free.”

The Waeghes also toured Omaha Beach, one of several beaches invaded by the Allied Forces. More than 3,000 soldiers lost their lives in an attempt to secure a foothold while undergoing a tremendous assault by the Germans who were entrenched on the cliffs lining the beach.

“Even now, you can look up and see all those cliffs where some of the German pillboxes where the Germans were firing from,”said Jeff. “They’re still there and when you look at those cliffs, you think about it and can’t help but feels it’s a miracle that anyone even survived let alone being able to scale the cliffs and take out the Germans. When you consider what they had to scale and what they had to surmount, For every 100 men who came in, only a handful actually made it. We were able to go into the pillboxes to see what they were like.”

The Waeghes also visited a museum in the area where they viewed movies and saw so many of the artifacts that played a part in the invasion.

The property in Normandy was deeded over to the U.S. and workers who are hired to tend the grounds and staff the museum are paid in U.S. currency.

As a mortician, Jeff said he was interested in the manner that the U.S. soldiers were laid to rest in the cemetery.

“I was told they are all in wooden caskets in metal vaults,” he said. “It shows me the care that was taken to finally bury them all. When I was looking at them all, my thought was that here are hundreds of men and each one of them had a family that was affected by his death. It was very sobering to think about.”

During the couple’s stay in London, their insight of World War II was expanded yet again when they were allowed to go into one of the bunkers that the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spent time in as he led Britain’s fight against the Nazis.

“England is very appreciative of the sacrifices of their servicemen as well as the U.S.,” Jeff said. “There are monuments everywhere. There are so many sights like that here in the United States but they are barricaded and you can’t even get close to them. But in Britain, you can go up to them and even go inside. It was very impressive.”

Working with families who are dealing with death and grief over the years has created for Jeff a greater respect for life.

“Each person is unique,” he said pensively. “Each life is unique. And each one has to be treated respectfully to maintain that uniqueness.”