It’s been seventy years since the most famous D-Day in history, the day America and the Allied Forces stormed the beaches in Normandy, France to secure freedom for the occupied European countries. I can’t imagine the courage it must have taken to run head-long into battle, surrounded from above, or parachuting in with no certainty as to the landing.
I wish I had paid more attention to the stories flying around the huge dinner table in my parent’s house when I was a kid. More than that, I wish I could use one of J.K. Rowling’s time-turners to go back and hear it again from the perspective of an adult.
Both sides of my family had participated in World War II. They were stationed in England, Germany, and yes, France. Horrific injuries had been inflicted on most of them; everything from being shot to being poisoned.
It was a common occurrence to be surrounded by men, and even women, who had served during WWII. My grandparent’s neighbor, a soft pudgy woman by the time I was born, had been a nurse in England. My church was full of men with limps, hearing aids, scars–internal and external.
One of these men–a handsome, kind, gentle, soul–who was hard of hearing, had been among those storming Normandy’s beaches. His twin brother was also there, only he didn’t make it out alive.
This man was my ‘heart brother’ one year, a tradition the young women’s group I belonged to had of selecting an elderly person and surprising them with little tokens and cards on Sunday morning. It was important to remain anonymous until the Christmas reveal.
I bought him a book once, Dave Barry’s. I don’t recall which one, but he loved it, enjoying the humorous take the author had on life. It was in communicating this that he opened up for a brief moment about his ordeal in France.
I knew him to be a rather quiet man, as most are about the horrors of war. But what he experienced during that time held him captive to silence for more than two years. Severely wounded, grieving the loss of his twin brother, he could neither hear nor talk.
For a while it seemed he might never speak again. They were close to just writing him off as ‘catatonic.’
Reliving the hell of the surging water with the thunderous splashing of men headed into gunfire, mud and blood exploding together due to shots from the cliffs above them was nearly too much for him in his late seventies. I could tell by the glaze over his eyes he was returning to that French beach, June 6th.
But something he did, as did the others, and all of my relatives, was to wear the American Flag pins with pride. They knew their sacrifices had been for good–selfless devotion to the ideals of Freedom throughout the world. There was no gain for them–for us–except to know America had acted with honor.
It was a nearly impossible task. General Dwight D. Eisenhower–who would later become President–addressed its difficulty. Click here to hear the audio version of his address. The numbers are staggering: 5,000 ships, 13,00 aircraft, 9,000 killed, and a force of more than 100,000 marching into the theater of war across Europe.
There are very few of these brave men and women still among us. I am saddened by so many untold stories left to those shores, unfinished lives cut down in their beautiful youth. But I am honored by their sacrifices and the knowledge of what they accomplished there.
Well said, thank you for honoring them.
Thank you Nancy. It’s our duty to always remember, don’t you think?
I truly believe so. I have work hard for three years to make sure my father’s letters from the war are preserved. On my journey I have found many of the families that my father served with. Now I feel like it is all on my shoulders and my blog is now their voice. I love that.
It’s living history and you should be proud to have walked among such great heroism. When I was a kid in Queens, my two best friends both had grandmothers who’d been in concentration camps. Only, at that age, I didn’t know what that meant. I remember one of them showing me the number tatooed on her arm. She was trying to explain it to me, but I think I was more interested in playing with my friend. Wish I too, could go back in time and really listen and ask her questions. Sigh. #MissedOpportunities
Oh, Monica, your story gives me chills. As writers we feel those missed opportunities as gaping wounds. Yet as kids, we weren’t interested in war.
Lovely tribute, Renee. I love the old photographs you included.
Thank you Jill. They are treasures to me.
I can’t begin to imagine. And you’re right, we do need to remember.
I’m just bowled over by their bravery — now more than ever.
Bless you Renee. Thank you. You have a beautiful soul and it shines in your bittersweet friendship with you ‘heart brother’. This is a wonderful tribute to the brave soldiers who sacrificed so much for us. I salute them all.
What a lovely comment. He was a beautiful soul and such a sweet man. But they were all so brave and proud and fully American. I love them even more as I ponder their trials.
What a beautiful tribute Renee. Thank you for sharing these stories.
Thank you Meg. You and I so often travel for joy and education. It’s difficult to imagine traveling so far away — further than they had ever been before — and know they might not make it back.
This is a beautiful piece, Renee. Honouring those who served in every way we can is all we can do to show them how grateful we are. Your writing and others like it will help document for future generations the the sacrifices that were made. Thank you.
Michelle, thank you. I had found these pictures among my mother’s and thought it the perfect time to share them. Looking at their young, sweet, faces makes me want to weep.
What a wonderful memorial Renee! I especially appreciate all the photos, thank you for posting those. Like you, I wish I had been more attentive, or maybe just more curious, to learn about the generation that experienced WWII. But it is only as I’ve grown older and learned more about that period through movies and books that I realize I missed chances to hear about that era from my own family. That generation is gone now, at least in my circle, but it is still inspiring and humbling to learn of the stories like the ones you share. ~ Sheila
Sheila, you make me feel less alone by sharing your stories. And it is sad but so true. We did miss a few golden opportunities but I suppose they missed them around their dinner table when the first world war was discussed.
A beautifully written and timely post, Renee. I love the part about your heart brother. What a wonderful experience. The longer I live, the more poignant the faces of these painfully young men and women are to me. And it is still true. Painfully young men and women, the men barely beyond boyhood, are still marching off to become cannon or RPG fodder. WWII was the last conflict in which everyone seemed to understand the mission.
Like you, I grow more attuned to their youth and inexperience. And I knew all of these fine men as older guys and I’m not sure I appreciated how very young they truly were until looking at them in this light. Wow.
What a wonderful story — yours and his. I have been to Normandy twice and cannot imagine the courage needed to keep moving up those cliffs with guns blazing at you and fellow soldiers falling all around you. It is an amazing place. And such a different time.
Beautifully written. Thank you!!