often wish I’d had more conversations with my father about his service during World War II.
Like so many men of his generation, Dad had to be prodded to speak about his experiences, including his participation in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
He really never seemed to want to talk about it. And he made it clear he never wanted to go back to Europe for any reason.
As we marked the 75th anniversary last week of the invasion that turned the tide of World War II, I couldn’t stop thinking of him.
Each June 6th, right up till my dad died in 1981, usually found him in a somber mood. My mother used to remind my older sister and me every year that it would probably be a tough day for Dad.
To the best of my recollection, she was almost always right.
I can only imagine what was going through Dad’s mind each year. He never told us.
More than 150,000 from the United States, Great Britain and Canada stormed the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. According to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, a total of 4,414 Allied soldiers, sailor, airman and coast guardsman died that day.
I don’t know that I ever completely grasped how amazing, yet awful the Normandy invasion really was, and how miraculous it was that my Dad survived to be my Dad, until I saw the opening scene of the 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
That 27-minute, highly detailed scene of U.S. soldiers landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day was excruciating to watch the first time. The passage of time has not changed that.
A 2018 article I found about that scene, written by Marine veteran James Clark on the military and veteran website “Task & Purpose,” gave this chilling description:
“As soon as the ramp lowers on the Higgins Boats, German machine-gun fire rakes the bow. Of those lucky enough to make it over the side, many die in the water. The ones who make it to the beach are torn apart by small arms, artillery fire, and shrapnel.
“That’s just the first minute.”
He went on to write:
“There’s no glorious charge across the field. The in-the-mud, grounds-eye view of combat viewers got in that scene ... places the viewer directly in the action, but not as an idle spectator. Instead, you’re there on the beach, terrified, unsure if you’ll make it out.”
I suspect that’s exactly how my Dad felt in real life, though he never said.
I have one memory of going out to dinner with him and getting him to talk a little bit about the war. My mom was in the hospital. After visiting her, he and I went out for what was an extremely rare restaurant meal.
Mostly he talked about his buddies, some fond memories of their off-duty times together, and how they’d often shake their heads at how messed up the Army brass could be.
I remember swallowing hard at some point and asking him if he’d been afraid.
He looked at me quietly for a moment, then said: “Of course I was afraid.”
That was it.
I think I nodded as if I understood, but of course I really didn’t.
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