June 6, 1944 — We will remember them.
My dad – a skinny 5’3″ kid from the coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania – went across Omaha beach as a medic with the First Infantry on day 2. He said that it took them that long to get their vehicles unloaded and the aid station set up inland. He recalled that before the landing his boss – a captain who had gone to Penn State and talked about fishing with dad – said that what they doing would be the most important thing in their lives. We lost dad to a heart attack 25 years ago. Like many men of his generation he wasn’t well educated, but I remember his wisdom, strength and oddball sense of humor. Late in his life we talked about his declining health and I remember him saying that he really wasn’t afraid of death. He said that he’d survived the worst that the Germans could throw at him and every day after that was a gift from God. I miss him.
This is a day to remember what those men did on June 6, 1944, the successful invasion that cost a lot of lives and injuries and lead to the end of the war in Europe in less than a year was such an enormous feat. When I look at pictures of those men I see skinny youngsters, in their late teens and early twenties for the most part, willing to move out and get the job done and they did.
I had a college professor, a quiet little man who wore an eyepatch, who made the jump with the 101st Airborne and we asked him about his experience jumping in that night. He just kind of grinned and told us that it was total confusion and a mess for several days as they just tried to stay alive and that’s about all he would tell us.
The only thing that alerted us to the interesting past of our big, soft-looking 9th grade music teacher was a slight pause in a lecture on a German composer. The teacher said that the composer was from a beautiful little German town that had two churches, both with spires that simultaneously appeared as you topped a rise on the road into town. The pause came right after he said that the SS had a machine gun nest in each spire when he “visited” the town.
When Japan surrendered Emperor Hirohito made a pre-recorded radio broadcast. Japan, never having been invaded and faced with imminent occupation, the Emperor asked his people “to endure the unendurable”. In a somewhat similar manner, how are combat veterans to “explain the unexplainable” to people far and long removed?
Odd as it may seem, the Japanese people had never heard the Emperor’s voice. Many were slow to be convinced it was actually him.
Interesting tidbit I read… the Emperor actually spoke a dialect the average Japanese had not heard. It was spoken only by the royals. It was not clear to them what exactly he was saying.
My dear old Dad went in on day one to Sword Beach, (I only got that out of him, after I pestered him when I was an adult and I’d lubricated him with some Jameson Irish whisky), otherwise, not a word.
He absolutely refused to talk about it.
Fundamentally I think that day made it so that he was never frightened of anything ever again.
I think that generation was harder and more enduring than us. When he was 18 he walked from Stranraer to Shropshire looking for work, (look it up), I realise it was a case of having to, but he didn’t sit down and give up. That generation didn’t.
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