Posted by: donnatallman | June 3, 2013

Never Heard of D-Day? (Reprise)

“D-Day? Dunno.” the teen answered.

“Seriously? You’ve never heard of D-Day?”

I was stunned. How can a kid grow up in America, attend school in this country, watch Saving Private Ryan, and not know what D-Day is? There were no words coming through my mouth even though my patriotic zealot brain wanted to pitch a star-spangled hissy fit. How could she not know that sixty-nine years ago on June 6th, 1944, the future of the world teetered on the Allies’ success at Normandy? The future of the world…her world!

It was the same feeling of incredulity I had in 1983 the day I heard James Watt, former secretary of the Interior under President Ronald Reagan, say he had never heard of the Beach Boys when he banned them from playing at the annual July 4th celebration in Washington, D.C. I thought he was kidding. I don’t even think it was possible to turn a radio on in the sixties and not hear the Beach Boys. They were everywhere. Even today, some thirty-plus years past their heyday, the Beach Boys are still American icons and they are still on the radio. How could he not know who they were?!

“Nope, never heard of D-Day,” she had said.

Well, have a seat. Allow me to introduce you to D-Day…the day U.S. and Allied forces invaded Europe at Normandy, inaugurating the ultimate battle to expel Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich from France during World War II. It was and still remains one of the most significant, and triumphant days in World War II. My son, Bryant, describes D-Day as, “The reminder that the success or failure of a civilization can be contingent upon one single event.”  World War II was that war, and D-Day was that event in Europe.

Do we need to remember soldiers who lived long ago, facing enemies that no longer exist, fighting battles we’ve never even heard of? Does a soldier who died in 1944 need our attention on D-Day 2013? It’s not even one of the federal holidays, so how does it even impact any of us?

Well, what about other wars? Does a doughboy who fought in the Mexican-American War or World War I have any connection to those of us living in an entirely new millennium? How about other World War II soldiers, or the “forgotten war,” Korea; is there any good reason to bring our Korean War soldiers back up for review? What of Vietnam, the soul-searing war that continues to claim casualties thirty-seven years following the fall of Saigon? When so many just want to forget all war and its horror, is there any reason to remember? I believe there is.

Remember the Maine!  Remember the Alamo, Remember Pearl Harbor, and of course, 9-11!  Every generation has its “Alamo.” We have 9-11. Having suffered attack or assault, Americans invoke these battle cries whenever we need to assemble our troops for war. To fortify our resolve and prepare for the inevitable, we reach back into history hoping to draft on the courage of yesterday’s warriors as we face new challenges that lie ahead.

Recalling the sacrifices of soldiers and families still coping with those losses is reasonable and meaningful. These living patriots carry around the horrors of war and the pain of losing a loved one in battle. It is compassionate to recognize their suffering and honor their sacrifice. More challenging for those of us who have not paid that same price is to value that sacrifice once those directly affected have passed from this earth.

Sometimes I wake in the night thinking about a soldier from my state who may have died somewhere overseas that day. I may not know his name, but I know something about his heart. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  A soldier who dies in battle dies for someone else; either a buddy nearby or a nation far away, and my freedom rests on that love.

No, I might not even know the name, but whether that soldier died in 1779 or 2013 he didn’t know mine either. When America’s soldiers sharpened their bayonets, pulled on their flight suits, or laced up their combat boots, they didn’t even know I existed. Yet they fought their way through America’s wilderness, up from the beaches of Normandy, across the countries of Europe, and contended for the islands of the Pacific. America’s courageous soldiers battled through the unfamiliar terrain of Korea, sweltered in the jungles of Vietnam, barreled across the deserts of the Middle East during Desert Storm, fought house to house in Iraq and now, scale mountains in Afghanistan in their never-ending determination to bring peace.

This they did for my freedom. The cost of my liberty is their sacrifice – the price of that sacrifice; their blood. The blood of the soldier is my life, and it is precious. Their blood is worthy of my remembrance.

WWII Memorial Washington, D.C.
Photo by Donna Tallman

We are a nation that lives in the moment, but D-Day offers us one opportunity to step out of the present and reflect on how we arrived here. This day invokes the grief of unbearable suffering, but it also celebrates what’s best about America. It reaches back to recall bravery, self-sacrifice, courage under fire, valor, integrity, and heroism. Bryant believes that “only in retrospect are we able to contextualize the significance of the sacrifice.” My son is right. The further we get from D-Day, the more we should appreciate the magnitude of the Allies’ victory in Europe.  In stopping to remember the past these courageous heroes have written, we can build a future worthy of their sacrifice.

So, if somebody ever says to me, “I’ve never heard of the Beach Boys,” I will invite them to return with me to France so that I might introduce them to America’s original “Beach” boys; the soldiers of Normandy – the heroes of D-Day.

Then one by one, beach by beach, we’ll Google: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches. The events of D-Day will unfold before us like a long-forgotten treasure map pointing us to the original “band” of brothers. They might not have been physically related, or able to play the guitar and drums, but I can assure you, the “Beach Boys” of June 6, 1944, made some serious noise that day!  One can’t help but hear the reverberation now sixty-five years later. They raised such a battle cry for freedom that day, my ears are still ringing!

Yes, D-Day matters…and I’m grateful.

© Copyright, 2009 by Donna Tallman.

Contact: sogreatajourney@yahoo.com

 

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Responses

  1. My last few years before I retired from the Army reserve components, I worked as a training officer at the regional Junior ROTC (high school level) summer camp, usually as the XO of the training cadre for the Raider Company, who are the gung-ho elites of JROTC (the equivalent of the Rangers in college-level ROTC).

    This happened in 1997, four years before 9/11. During one otherwise free period on the schedule, I showed the movie PATTON. Before I started it, I asked the company of about 100 cadets how many of them knew who George S. Patton was. Only four raised their hand and identified him as a general in World War II.

    Once we got into George C. Scott’s rendition of Patton’s address to his troops, I got a lot of “HOOAH!”s at lines like “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country; he won it by making the OTHER poor dumb bastard die for HIS country!” and “We’re not just going to shoot the bastards. We’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks!” They got into the spirit, but somehow the fact that they were all gung-ho about Patton when 96% of them had never heard of him three minutes earlier bothered me.

    When the movie reached the Battle of the Bulge with Patton’s 3rd Army marching and fighting Germans through the blizzard to break through to the 101st Airborne Division surrounded at Bastogne, I called out, “Does anyone know what this battle was called?”

    There was about five seconds of silence, and then a cadet who was sitting close to where I was turned to me and said, “Sir, was this the Cold War?”

    A reminder that these were the elite of the Junior ROTC in the region, all of whom had at least a year of classroom military training. If that’s what I could get out of them, think of how the brainwashed masses of America’s average youth with NO military instruction would have responded.

    You just can’t make this sh*t up!

    • Oh, my goodness…thanks for your post. I’m still laughing. No, you can’t make it up…the Cold War…oh, help us. I cut my teeth on The Longest Day, Sgt. York, The Green Berets, Bridge Over the River Kwai, and Patton. I think I assumed that the next generation shared my same background and understanding of American history. They don’t…so it’s up to the rest of us to teach, remind, and honor the legacy of all who lived and died to give us freedom. Thank you for not flinching in the face of their hysterical (oops, I meant historical) illiteracy. Thank you also for your service to our country – I’m grateful! Donna.

  2. As a veteran of the Vietnam War, I will confess I still do not know how to respond to people when they thank me for my service. The mood of the public toward the soldiers returning from that war caused many of us to want to hide the fact we ever served. Sometimes, I must admit, I feel patronized. Your article makes a believer out of me. A believer that there are some who actually do have a sense of the cost of war for the soldiers who fight them. Or at least that you do. Thank you for reminding us all of the significance of a persons service to their country and the price that some had to pay.

    • Thank you, Ray, for your honesty. A friend of mine who served in Vietnam told me his story of when he returned home alone from Vietnam. When he reached the San Francisco airport he immediately changed into his civilian clothes and threw his uniform in the trash. He walked away never telling anyone he served for years. The culture at the time made him feel so ashamed that it took years for him to feel better about it. He still struggles. When he told me he threw away his uniform, I immediately burst into tears…no soldier should be shamed by the very people who sent him/her into battle. Ever. I was a blue star daughter during Vietnam – my father served in the Air Force. Though I didn’t serve myself, I was so proud of the airmen around us. They often passed through our base in Spain on their way to the Southeast Asian theater – many would never return. Yes, I am grateful. Yes, I want to say thank you. Yes, I am proud of all who served…especially of those of you who served in Vietnam and returned home to condemnation. You did not deserve the nation’s wrath, and I think the entire country learned a lot (at your expense unfortunately) about how we should have welcomed our troops home from Vietnam. I know it’s uncomfortable, but thank you for my freedom – may you experience peace and healing on your own journey.

  3. Thanks you for the nice read. My father in law just passed away in December 2012 @ 91 years old and was a part of the D-Day Invasion. It amazes me that anyone survived. He really never spoke of it to us but, I overheard him talking to a fellow WWII Vet at the airport as the Vet was returning from France after the 50th Anniversary celebration. It was an eye opener for me. I guess they knew that only they would understand what they went through.

    • My father-in-law was a Seabee in the South Pacific and my grandfather a dr. in Europe. They never spoke of their time overseas. My father-in-law went to every reunion of his unit as long as he was able. They were a generation set apart. They truly understood what was at stake in WWII. Thanks, Wally, for your post.


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