Reflections on D-Day and Dad

Here in the USA, we remember our veterans, especially on particular American holidays. There is Memorial Day at the end of May and Veterans’ Day on November 11th. The first of these started life as Decoration Day after the American Civil War, first observed on May 30th, but became a Monday holiday – along with three other national days – in the late 1960s. This is the day for us to remember our war dead. Veterans Day is much less celebrated than it used to be. Certainly the date has less resonance for the US than for Western Europe. Our hometowns were not devastated by the trench warfare of World War I as happened in France and Belgium nor was our male population reduced to the extreme extent that theirs was. This may explain why Nov 11 in the USA is a day to honor all our veterans, whether they are dead – and regardless of cause – or still alive. Side note – we don’t really mark May 8th (V-E Day) or V-J Day, whether the August 15th UK-recognized date or the Sept 2nd official surrender signing. It puzzles me a bit that we remember Pearl Harbor and the two A-bomb drops on Japan instead but that’s just me, I guess and a different topic altogether.

I struggle as much as anyone to mark Memorial Day and Veterans Day in an appropriately respectful way. After all, none of my ancestors were war casualties as far as I know. I’m a lucky baby-boomer and – on my father’s side – a second generation American. My Dad’s father worked in the NY shipyards at the beginning of the 20th century, having emigrated via ship from Hamburg from Bohemia when it was still part of Austria. This work may have exempted him from the WWI draft, or maybe he was not a US citizen yet.*

*I would welcome any clarification from my cousins on this point.

Dad served in the US Army from 1941 until July 1945 (shortly after V-E Day). He must have been lucky, too – he managed to make it through the war unwounded, even though he landed in Normandy on June 12th, 1944 (aka D-Day plus 6) and went on to fight at the Falaise Gap, the Battle of the Bulge and into that part of western Germany known as the Rhineland.

Dad and I made a trip to Normandy – my first, his third or fourth – in May of 2002. I’ve posted blogs about that trip, should any new followers be interested. (Key in Normandy in the search box of this blog to call up those posts). That trip was a singular experience. It turned out to be the last trip abroad Dad, aged 87, would make with me or anyone else and it included a few thrilling days in Iceland, where Dad was stationed from May 1941 until October 1943, when he got shipped first to Britain and then France; it was the first time he had been back in Iceland since the war and my only visit there until this past January.

Today I remember that trip, especially for the time we spent on the Normandy beaches. We weren’t there on the 6th of June and we weren’t there in a “big” remembrance year but it was absolutely special and, every year, today is the day when I’m most likely to weep for the sacrifices of all who serve/d, whether they live/d through the effort or not and, approaching the sixth anniversary of Dad’s passing at the end of August, I weep because I miss him.

So, even if I somehow forget to fly the flag on Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day or Flag Day (June 14th), I put it out on June the 6th. It’s after sundown. The flag is in. When the lump in my throat goes away, I’ll have some dinner.

Dad in NY, I think, comrades in arms and Dad - possibly in Iceland

(L) Dad in NY, I think, (C) comrades in arms and (R) Dad – possibly in Iceland

 

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5 Responses to Reflections on D-Day and Dad

  1. Jim Kudless says:

    As usual your facts are 100% accurate regarding the shared gifts of memories our Dad gave us. I can add some other parts. Walking ashore on June 12 he had to walk up the lone winding road from the beach. Of course the beach that was the front on the 6th, was now a secure rear area on the 12th. He mentioned the road Robert Mitchum drives up in the last scene of “the Longest Day”. According to Dad that was the same road.
    He also said that one thing that he remembers when he came ashore was the piles of clothes, boots, helmets and other things. He realized these were no long of use to their original owners and represented a tangible, visible measure of the sacrifice of those who came before.
    All of it worthy of a pause and a thank you from those of us who can appreciate it.

    • suzykewct says:

      My recollection from Dad was the only command he remembered as they approached the beach – “As soon as you hit the beach, GET OFF THE ** BEACH!!” So, I suppose the definition of secure was open to interpretation. The other recollection he provided was hunkering down behind a hedgerow next to a guy who was apparently a medic. Another soldier came along and said to that guy, “You’re needed”. He left and Dad never saw him again nor did he find out what that was all about. Thanks for your feedback.

  2. judstep@yahoo.com says:

    Thanks. Judy

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  3. pat spencer says:

    I remember your Dad well and how he and Franks’s father got on immediately they met, both were in WW 11, in different parts of the world but they were away from family and loved ones for years and could relate to each others pasts.
    Like you today I watched the events with tears in my eyes for all that people had to endure. My father was part of the D-Day landing and died in France 7/7/44, age 32. I too have been to the area and found the experience touched my heart like nothing else.

    • suzykewct says:

      Oh, Pat. I never knew about your father, though I do have fond memories of the strong bond between Mom & Dad and Doris & Frank. Thanks so, so much for your comments.

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