Monday, June 08, 2009

D-Day Memories

Over the weekend there were two events that made me keenly aware of the passage of time and of the generation that preceded me.

El Jefe and I watched much of the 65th anniversary of D-Day ceremonies in Normandy on Saturday. Seeing the veterans of that day receive the French Legion's Medal of Honor was very moving. There probably will not be another big anniversary of this critical battle of WWII that will include living veterans of the fight.

That evening over dinner, St. Betty and The Old Marine added their own memories of WWII to ours as we talked about D-Day over dinner. St. Betty and TOM were preschoolers during WWII. She remembers traveling on a train in east Texas with her mother and giving up her seat to a soldier.

"We always gave our seats up to men in uniform, " she recalled. "And sometimes soldiers would come to the door and you always fed them."

TOM mentioned that he had an uncle killed at Pearl Harbor. One of my uncles was critically injured in a training accident at a staging area for D-Day in England. The injuries kept him from action that day and probably saved his life because his unit was decimated in the landing. He spent a couple of years in veterans' hospitals but went on to marry, become a banker and raise a family. He limped to the end of his life which came in his eighties. Another one of my uncles was killed when his plane was shot down over Italy later in the war.

El Jefe's uncles were exempt from the service during this time because they had children, were older, and worked in a defense industry (oilfield trucking). But his father, the youngest ("Dutch"), served in the Army Air Force. He never saw action because, as El Jefe says, the army doctors nearly killed him trying to treat an ulcer. He was discharged from his unit for medical reasons. His unit was decimated flying mission the first bombing raids over Germanys, so his medical discharge probably saved his life, too.

With Dutch's passing almost a year ago, the last of our family's generation of WWII vets are now gone to glory. My dad, his brother Wendell and brother-in-law Doug all served in the navy. Daddy began as a navigator stationed in Key West, Florida but applied for a transfer to the Pacific theater where his ship dodged a couple of kamikaze raids and went up the Nanking river deep into China. Doug also served in the China theater. Wendell's ship patrolled the coast of South America--something you don't hear about much.

The commemoration Saturday made me think about the young men like the uncle I never knew and TOM's uncle who did not get to come home and continue their lives after the war. Who would they have married? What would their children become? What would they have done for a living? Their sacrifice for our freedom cut their lives short. But not our debt to them.

Tomorrow I'll write about the other event.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

all of my dads brothers ( who have all passed on) served in the war in various theaters ( europe, the canal zone and the atlantic)

none of them had much to say about their years in the service other then to acknowledge that they were there and were glad to come home

It has always amazed me how matter of factly those men and women went out and did what had to been done