Friday, June 05, 2009

D-Day plus 65 years

The beginning of June holds many memories for me: the end of school (plus or minus), my dad's birthday (June 7, 115th this year), and his death (June 1.) But the recurring celebration is D-Day, from my third year on, our country has, more or less, celebrated the event every June 6.

My first real recollection is 1954 when President Eisenhower (then) met former Field Marshal Montgomery in Normandy to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the invasion. It was my first recollection of the day and of the fact that Monty and Ike did not get along during the War and buried the hatchet long enough to recount their memories and speak about their respective forces.

Prior to that I knew the entrenched in my memory...of Sword, Gold, Juno and of course, Utah and Omaha. I was just not aware of the importance of the event. In fact, maybe it was in 1954 that I first realized the difference and distance between Iwo Jima and Omaha Beach.

I knew of the great loss of life because of the young men who died there. Among them was the brother of my Sunday School teacher (who stayed with us from 1954 until our graduation in 1959,she says, because she loved us so much.) Her brother had been a Boy Scout in my dad's troupe during the 1930s and Dad often lamented that had he made the scout a better swimmer, he might have survived the landing. There was a magic or mystic to the D-Day landing that filtered into my thinking way back then.

I was in the Navy in 1964, floating around the Mediterranean Sea on the USS. FDR when the 20th anniversary came around. I do not remember the celebrations because we did not get much world news, but I am sure there were commemorations that year. By this time I had a better understanding about service and also was working with many sailors (especially my superior officers who were WWII veterans) who talked about their war experiences from time to time. While most, as I recall, were in the Pacific Theater during the War, there was no particular mention of June 6, 1944. My direct supervisor was a submariner as an enlisted man and he had some stories. Our Engineering Officer was on the USS Bennington when it was hit and burned in 1945. Our skipper was going through flight training in 1944 after serving first on a cruiser.

So here we are 45 years after that and I am still thinking about D-Day and the significance and the sacrifice of those brave young men. Tom Hanks left the most lasting impression of the horror of the event with Saving Private Ryan. The first 20 minutes of that film are almost too horrible to watch, right?

I saw a piece on the news this eveing about some survivors of the Normandy landing being taken to France with some 20 year old students from The College of the Ozarks as part of a living history lesson. I was very moved by that piece. These old guys are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day. Soon, they will all be gone, all 16 million of them.

School will soon be out here and the yearly early-June memories will be over for me and I can get on to the rest of my summer. And that's a good thing. It will soon be Brother Jim's birthday :-)

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