The 64th anniversary of D Day just passed. On that evening, I spent an hour watching a very well done and thoughtful special, “The Men of D Day.” It profiled four American men who saw action on that day, all of them now in their 90s.
D Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, was the largest seaborne invasion in history. About 156,000 American troops landed on the beach of Normandy, France, along with soldiers from other Allied countries. More appropriately, perhaps, on that day Omaha Beach was referred to as the gates of hell by those young soldiers who were being sent on to the beaches to stop the advancement of the Nazis.
All of the men of D Day are now old men, of course, but the memories they shared of that day were vivid and touching. “I was prepared to see dead people, just not so many. Everyone felt that way,” said one of them.
Another recalled that the ocean water where they landed that day was blood red. There were over 209,000 Allied casualties that day in the air and on the ground.
A third man in the film choked up as he remembered his experience of landing on the beach on D Day. He said he’d never talked about it before.
It always gives me pause when I consider the age of these soldiers at the time. All young men, some of them were still teenagers, while others were in their 20s. And there they were, fighting for democracy for themselves, their families, and for the generations like us who came after. If you’ve had a son or two and watched them grow up, it’s almost impossible to think of him filling such a role.
The end of “The Men of D Day” devoted some time to the cemetery where more than 9,300 American casualties of D Day are buried at Normandy, France. There are symmetrical rows of white crosses marking the graves as far as the eye can see. “It’s peaceful here now,” said one of the men in the film. “I wish my crew could see it.”
My late parents were both in the Navy during World War II. Even though my dad never was in a battle on land, they were both proud of what their generation did to keep our country safe and free.
I remember that even when they were elderly, my mom would occasionally turn to my dad to say, “We won the war didn’t we, honey?” With a glint in his eye and a certain set of his jaw, Dad answered firmly “Yep, we sure did.”
I used to think that exchange was pretty corny, but now I don’t. They were right.