Not much has been said through the years either by D-Day veterans or the other soldiers, sailors and Marines who joined a war that was already several years along by the time the Japanese gave America the excuse. They left most of the words to others. And saved gems like that for today.
I was two, plus one month, on D-Day. Many of my parents’ generation had already faced the cannons, and now more of their lives were being strewn across Normandy beaches as the Allies faced the thorny task of fighting their way uphill against the Reich’s favorably positioned forces. Europe was nearly lost -- save the English. Chances of the war being over any time soon were not great. My father had joined up late and was still stateside (where he remained, translating English to Japanese prisoners in Alabama). But worry knocked at every American's door.
It’s hard to imagine how it felt to stand in a recruiting station all those years ago wondering if you’d get picked to serve, and if not, why not! Or what it was like to look into the eyes of your bride -- wondering if you’d ever see her again and yet still be willing (eager!) to get on the train?
What was it like to be only nineteen and six months later strap one of the most powerful fighter planes in the world around you and go out to meet another young man – now your enemy – who spent every moment of every flight thinking about how to shoot you down before you shoot him down first?
What was it like to drop from a heaving LST into water so deep that you choked on it and nearly drowned before taking your first steps toward a beach that was so far away that the men falling along its shore looked like dots in the distance? What thoughts worried your mind as you trudged toward your fate that day, thankful to be still on your feet but burdened with so much equipment that you could barely make headway against the bloody surf as an insane amount of heavy artillery fire screamed overhead from the ships behind you and death called your name from the bluffs above the beach?
Stories from the World War II era now lie at the edge of our collective memory, its veterans passing at something like 500 a day. Most of the men (and women) who survived the war have already gone. Their stories fade with advancing age, and yet all were incredibly, astonishingly young back then. They were sons and brothers, neighbors and friends. They were the kid at the corner store and somebody’s sister’s boyfriend. And America called on them for nothing less than to help save the world.
I vividly recall experiences related by a friend who served in World War II. He lied about his age to get in and then so impressed the brass that he was appointed stenographer during highest level D-Day planning sessions that were so secret that he was locked in his room under guard until the invasion got underway. He later served on the beach, rose to the rank of colonel, became successful in business because of his novel approach to problem solving and went on to establish a travel company that toured aging WWII veterans to the sites of their wartime experiences – in Europe and the Pacific.
His name was Hal Ryder, and I tear up just thinking about him. He was a man who loved his country and the veterans who fought for it with a passion that would not be quelled short of his own passing. And he loved to tell their stories.
Hal was only one. There were millions.
They all gave. Some gave all.
Content © by Brian E. Faulkner