Normandy and the D-Day Beaches

May 30, 2004

You didn't forget about us did you? We've been away for a while ... to the States, on vacation and visiting with Snooks and we have some new things to share with you.

First of all, May is a big birthday month so I want to say Happy Birthday again to Leigh, Lucy, Danny, Joanna, and Snooks!

I still hope to get a "for real" birthday list going soon.

Since Memorial Day is Monday and the D-day Anniversary Celebration is coming up on June 6th, I thought the Normandy photos would be an appropriate place to start. This year will be the 60th D-day anniversary and sadly, most of the veterans will not live to see another one.

I'll start by saying I know there were many countries involved in the war as allies to the US, and many from the French Resistance fighting alongside the Americans. You know I'm very patriotic but not blindly so, but to be totally impartial and give all credit where it is due would be more than I'm capable of and would take many pages .... so this will a patriotic update ... something I am capable of. So, enjoy with me or bear with me, ye of other nationalities <g>

My father was a veteran of WWII so the trip to Normandy was an attempt to discover and hopefully understand what it was like for him to be shipped to this unfamiliar land and fight for the freedom of strangers. I figured Normandy would be a place of possibly profound discovery for me.

I expected to return home with an understanding of how the things Daddy saw and felt during the war affected him ... emotionally and physically ... and in turn would give me some insight into how that experience shaped him and made him ultimately, the man I remember.

The museums were very moving ... the archive film footage that needed no commentary, the letters from soldiers to their families, the stories of humans helping humans with no regard to alliance, the account of the spiral into darkness that lead to the beginning of the war, the details of the unfathomable and unthinkable camps of human destruction ... it was all so very emotional and will challenge even the most stoic to not shed tears.

Looking at the exhibits, I could see physical evidence of how difficult it was for many soldiers. I was mentally bracing myself against these raw realities of war, but I was still eager to perceive it as it happened for my father. Like many WWII veterans, he never talked about the war.

I was ready.

Now I stood on Utah Beach, almost 60 years after my dad. The beach was deserted except for a few people barely visible in the distance. The off-and-on cold spring rain probably kept some from lingering. Good. Since I was determined to be here rain or shine, the weather-aided solitude was a bonus.

The beach was wide and long and desolate. It seemed to me a fitting tribute to the soldiers who never lived to see a crowded, summertime beach and play in the surf with their families.

The morning tide had gifted the beach with many seashells that would surely have been claimed by now had the day been more agreeable for strolling and searching. I picked up a small, scalloped seashell and put it in the palm of my hand. 'Yes, something tangible to take home from here. That's what I want to feel.' I clutched the shell tightly as if it might hold some 60-year-old secret to release to me if I wished it hard enough. I squeezed my eyes shut and I willed the picture of Daddy as a young soldier into my mind. 'What did you see here? What did you feel? Take me to stand in your footsteps. Help me understand what all this meant to you'.

The image that came to me was from a movie of soldiers landing on the beach. A movie. I searched the crowd for my dad's face. They were all strangers. Thanks to Hollywood, probably the image most of us have of D-day. It was hardly the spiritual connection to my dad I was hoping for at this moment. I hoped to feel an empowerment here on this beach that I had only dreamed of previously. Only my dad could somehow explain all this to me.

The rain had stopped and I walked along the near-empty beach and picked up more seashells, wishing with each one to be magically transported to a moment of 'understanding'. I analyzed whether or not I was to blame for not being more open to an 'understanding'. I had to try harder. I looked out over the English Channel and tried to picture the landing boats bringing, not troops, but my father, to this shore.

'Were you scared?', I asked toward the receding tide. 'I really need to know', I appealed for empathy's sake. My questions seemed carried off on the same April wind that made me gather my coat tighter around my neck. The only answer offered up was the clattering of the oyster tractors in the distance. Good for you, I sarcastically applauded. It seems life goes on as normal for you.

There was no great enlightenment coming to me ... just no way I could see or feel or imagine Daddy on that beach. My life had been deeply affected by the war, yet at the same time, it was so far removed from my reality that I couldn't wrap my mind around it.

After acquiring a decent collection of shells, shedding several compassionate and a few selfish tears onto the beach, and demanding accountability, foolishly but in desperation, of even God Himself, I finally realized ...

... I do not want to know.

Thanks to God, I've never had anything near an experience that would give me a basis for "identifying" with what my dad went through. I'm sure I could never comprehend it in the way he felt it. There must be a reason that he kept the war and it's emotional scars in the past, and I have to trust that they are best left there.

Instead, I prefer to honor Daddy for doing those things which are far too difficult for me to really understand, and to love him fiercely for his strength to endure those difficult times, put that all behind him, give our family a good life and end up such a wonderfully decent human being.

While I'm terribly proud of what he did in the war, my cherished memories will still be of him as my Dad at peace ... happy, hardworking, singing bass in a barbershop quartet, loving American baseball and devoted to his family, his country and to God.

Daddy would want it that way.





This article gives a good visual of the events of D-day Here's a small sample:

"The food was so good the night before the invasion that the soldiers called it the Last Supper. For many, it was. We talk about how much America can stand, how many casualties the country is prepared to endure; the answer means nothing without knowing what we buy with those lives. The carnage of D-day, though horrific, was less than most planners had feared. Of the paratroopers in the first wave, some were shot as they dangled from trees and church steeples; some were dropped into the sea or so low that their chutes never opened. Of those in the 1,500 landing craft, at least 10 boats foundered, one losing 30 of 32 men. One company saw 96% die within the first 15 minutes. Of the first 32 Sherman tanks that landed, supposedly equipped with devices to help them make it to shore, 27 sank in the churning seas, drowning their crews. "Two kinds of men are staying on this beach," shouted Colonel George Taylor to the men of his regiment on Omaha Beach. "The dead and those who are going to die. Get up! Move in! [Expletive]! Move in and die!"

"Every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero," Bradley later wrote, remembering the carpet of corpses, men burned alive or blown apart or drowned. All told, by the end of the first day, at least 150,000 men had landed by sea and air, and there were 10,000 casualties. But by August the Allies were speeding toward Paris on their way to victory. The German surrender came 11 months later."
By Nancy Gibbs

Sixty years later, It leaves me wishing I could erase those memories and experiences from every veteran's mind and life. Paradoxically, it also makes me want to imprint it all forever in the minds of the people who don't really realize that freedom is indeed, not free.

I hope it doesn't sound too trite, but I'd like to use the web page to thank my dad and every veteran and service personnel reading this. I know there are many of you because a lot of you are among closest family and best of friends. One family member is currently serving in Iraq.

I want to say to all of you, your courage and sacrifice are not in vain. There are many all over the world who would stand with me to say, I am grateful to you beyond words.

And a French poet said it so perfectly... to those men and women who have offered their lives in their most promising years for the freedom of others ... we are their sons and daughters of liberty.

Don't forget. Tell your children. Thank a veteran. Pray for peace.

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