D-Day, June 6, 1944

When I was a child D-Day was a day of remembrance.  Although it had happened 15 years before my birth, it was still fresh in the minds of my family and many of our friends.  I personally didn’t know anyone that had been part of D-Day, but I did have an uncle who had served on a battleship in the Pacific, and a great uncle who’d flown bombing missions in Europe.

The war had been a huge part of my parent’s life.  In the same way we were raised during the Vietnam war, they were raised during World War II.  Their elementary school years were full of war bond rallies, ration books, and collection drives for everything from household grease to metal.  They hid under their desks during air raid drills, the same way we pathetically tried to protect ourselves from a nuclear attack.

My family lived in a military town.  There was an airfield, where many of Jimmy Doolittle’s pilots were trained for the famous bombing attack on Tokyo.  The army had a supply depot in town as well, and my grandmother worked in the commissary.  My parents have vivid memories of the time.  Mom remembers the downtown being full of military men in uniform.  My father had closer links because of his Uncle’s service, and also because of where his mother worked.  He remembers that whenever they went anywhere his widowed mother would pick up servicemen and give them a lift wherever they were going.  That was what everyone did.  He also remembers attending a picnic for the servicemen at the depot, where they got to eat food they rarely had in abundance.  Ice cream, cake, and huge steaks.  He never forgot that party!

The most interesting thing that happened to him was when he was spending the summer at his grandfather’s ranch in Northern California.  One day when they were driving out to the far western part of the ranch they found something that looked like a balloon, but it had things attached to it and was covered in Japanese writing.  They immediately contacted the army and someone came out and collected it.  They never knew for sure what it was, but my father was convinced that the Japanese had to have been close for that object to end up where it did.  For that reason, even though some of his schoolmates were interned, my father always said it was unfortunate, but necessary from his point of view.  It’s hard for us to understand what it was like living in those days  but to people like my family, the fear was real.

The hardest part of life in any town in America during the war was seeing a Western Union delivery boy riding his bicycle down your street.  My grandmother described it as a collective holding of breath, combined with sheer terror.  Every day the mothers, wives, and children of servicemen lived in fear.  There was no Skype or email.  It could be weeks or months without a word.

When the word got out that the Allies had invaded Normandy the whole nation held its’ breath.  Over 150,000 Allied troops landed along a 50 mile stretch of French coastline, going up against the Nazis who had fortified the beaches  It was a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory,”  5,000 ships, and 11,000 aircraft supported the soldiers in the landing crafts and by the end of the day the Allies had gained a tentative foot-hold in Europe.

The cost was high as more than 9,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded, and it was only the beginning.  They had nearly another year to go, and many more men and civilians would die before it was over.

Today we need to take a few minutes to remember those brave men who sacrificed their lives to liberate Europe from the evil of the Nazi regime.  We also need to recognize their families who did their best to live their lives with the shadow of death hanging over them.

We also need to remember that we have soldiers serving today in combat situations.  Their families also live in fear.  They deserve our support.

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