Friday, June 6, 2014
D-Day, H-Hour, Plus Seventy Years
This iconic photograph is enlarged so that it fills the entire entryway of the National WWII Museum's "Beaches" gallery. The men aboard the Higgins boat appear life-size as they wade ashore in Normandy. It is so very moving.
Back in the 1940s, my father-in-law lied about his age so he could join the Army Air Corps and help save the world. He was sixteen years of age. A red-headed spitfire. He wound up in the mountains of the China-Burma-India theater with a bunch of gurkhas who were fond of posting severed heads atop poles in the ground. He was responsible for placing transponders that guided Allied planes as they flew over "The Hump." As incoming fire hit his locations, he and the Gurkhas learned that holes aren't just for transponders, and the deeper the better. He learned how to sneak into nearby British officers' tents, "borrow" their gin, take a swig or two before soaking his jungle-rot-plagued feet in it, pour it back into the bottle, and return it to its rightful owners. He wasn't particularly fond of the British. Or the Finns, for that matter. He suffered from occasional bouts of malaria that he originally contracted in Burma the remainder of his life. Needless to say, the man he became was a direct product of his WWII experiences -- he was one of the most brilliant men I've ever encountered, usually jovial and loving, but sometimes quite callous, and often ruled by the principles of self-preservation. Little surprise there. He did, however, help save the world. Thank God and Grandpa.
My mother told me stories about the Home Front in small-town mid-America. Her family saved the rendered fat from the little bit of meat they could buy to donate to the munitions industry. There were ration books, limiting the amounts of food, gasoline, and clothing that civilians could purchase so that our fighting men could have first dibs on limited resources. She peeled the tin foil from the wax paper that wrapped chewing gum and took it to the metal drive at the library. School children wrapped rolls of bandages from worn-out cloth to be shipped overseas. Everyone from children to grandparents had skin in the game; everyone sacrificed in one manner or another. Sadly, that is not the case today. The White House even seems to float above the fray.
My father was barely 15 when the Allies landed in Normandy seventy years ago today. A few weeks ago I asked him to email me his memories of D-Day. I'd never heard him talk about it much. Now I understand why -- I guess we take today's 24-hour newscycle for granted. Here's what he sent me:
Don’t remember much, the news was pretty well shut down in those days.. Only had radio, the papers put out what they called ‘EXTRAS, READ ALL ABOUT IT’ and Newsreels at the movie theaters.. I recall hearing on the radio ‘ the invasion of fortress Europe has begun’ on the coast of France, but it was much later when we got any details.. The gov’t had a slogan ‘loose lips sink ships’ and they clamped down on most info…Any bad news was pretty well omitted..
Loose lips sink ships.
A few weeks ago, the Obama administration outed a CIA operative in Afghanistan, placing his very life in jeopardy, then, in essence, said, "Oops." Shortly thereafter, our Commander in Chief unleashed on the world five of the worst terrorists known as our Veterans suffer and die without care from the VA.
We need you again today, Boys of Pointe Du Hoc. On the beaches of the Potomac.