Today is 75 years from D Day. The day men from all over the United States stormed the beaches of Normandy. They were really young men. I visited the cemeteries in France where men are buried from WWI and WWII. I also visited the cemetery in Hawaii from WWII and Pearl Harbor, when I was about 13 years old. These visits had a huge affect on me. There are rows and rows of crosses that seem to go on forever. If you read the names of these young men who died you see one thing very clearly. Most of these men were really children and from every religion and race, with English names, and German names, and Italian names, and Swedish, Finish, French, American Indian, and Asian, names. There ages range from about 18 to maybe 28 years old. Every once-in-a-while I would see a name on one of the crosses that said something like, “Jimmy (the old man) Smith” and do you know how old Jimmy was when this, “old man”, died? He was 27. The saddest thing I remember, while visiting the Lorraine American Cemetery in France, was something that I saw that was written in a guestbook that visitors would sign at the visiting center, writing their names and the date and state from which each guest was visiting. There was a space to write something in the book right next to one’s name. One woman wrote a note to her brother. It was written in 1983. I am paraphrasing, “ To my brother, Bob. It took me a long time to get here but I finally made it. I came to see you, Bob, at last. Love, Your Sis”, I still cry every time I think of those few words. Made me cry in 1983 and made me cry today. This particular cemetery contains “10,489 American dead (the largest number of American Burials in Europe), and covers 113.5 acres.” I looked this up today in Wikipedia.
All wars are terrible, all of them are confusing and all of them are about killing and injuring other human beings. All of them revolve around death and winning and losing. As far as WWII goes, we know that there wasn’t a choice. There were several leaders whose main goal was to rule the world and kill any person who differed from this wish or any person who might question this goal. It didn’t matter if this cost the lives of all of their people or not. Most of the people who might be reading this probably had a father or uncle or yes, even sometimes a mother, who fought or joined up to help. They just didn’t help, these Americans gave their young lives, their time and sometimes their limbs and eyesight to save the world.
I had a neighbor; he lived about four houses down from our house when I was in high school. The neighbor was blind; he had several strong good looking Irish children. Everyday one of his kids would walk with him to work. He had an Insurance company that was about a mile or so away. As fate would have it, I went to the same college in Iowa for two years with one of his very nice and good looking sons. We became friends. Not until many years later did I find out that our neighbor (my friend’s father) was listed in a book about his war experience. Our neighbor was blinded in WW II. This man was one of the men listed in a book about “The Greatest Generation” What did he do after the war? He stated in the book that he asked God to give find him a good wife. What else would a good Irish Catholic man who had been blinded in the war do? He found his wife and he started selling insurance. Who would not trust a blind war veteran to sell them insurance? He ended up with his own successful insurance company, with his good wife, and his very wonderful, good-looking children living in a big, beautiful, happy, home.
This isn’t a unique story. How wonderful were and are these people men and women of this generation? They are and were incredible.
My aunt Martha got a job in a plane factory. She once told me that she had to take four busses at night to get to her job as a riveter. She was one of the many women who worked in factories and shipyards during WWII and in her case, building planes. She was one of the original “Rosie The Riveter’s”. She was maybe five feet tall and she probably weighed about one hundred pounds or less. Her husband was in Europe and she worked nights taking four busses, to get to her job. I know one more thing about my aunt; she was a perfectionist in everything she did, from work to cleaning a house. I am sure any plane she worked on was perfectly made. Auntie was a marvelous woman. Her husband was stationed in Europe throughout the war. Turns out he made some lady friends in Europe. He asked my aunt to send him some gifts for his lady friends. My aunt bought them and sent the gifts to him, with her blessings. Not only was Auntie hard working and tough and very pretty and very funny, she was, as it turns out, very open minded as well as generous with her hard earned money. My aunt and uncle stayed married and devoted to each other until my aunt passed away in her 80’s.
Just think of all of the men who hit the beaches on D Day so long ago. Today I heard that there are about 500,000 veterans who are still alive, who fought in that war. These men are all over 90 years old. Just think of what they have seen in their long lives. Somehow they lived to over 90 years after having fought in one, or some, who probably fought in more than one war. What gave them the strength to keep on keeping on? I was watching the news this morning and looking at the beautiful, peaceful, beach in Normandy, the same beach where, so many men gave up their lives for us to live in freedom. The same gorgeous beach that I walked along many years ago and the same beach while riding my bike as a carefree young woman in my 20’s enjoying the fabulous freedom I had and have, to live to my ripe old age of 67.
So what is our responsibility? Our responsibility is to live our lives to the fullest. We must protect our freedoms, honor our vets, honor the greatest generation and honor our country.
Until Next Week….