Monday, June 6, 2011

Remembering D-Day

My dad passed away several years ago and he is greatly missed.  Oddly though, D-Day reminds me more of him than either his birth or death days do.  Dad arrived on that fateful Normandy beach on Day 2. After surviving that, he went on to experience the Battle of the Bulge as well. Dad had a few funny stories to tell about his European visit but I think he had quite a few horror stories that he kept private. 
Dad was always active, with the exception of his night time T.V. (Lawrence Welk, Hee-Haw, Mash and Wild Kingdom. Dad had pretty exciting tastes in T.V. programing!) Dad never just sat. He did. He built radios, built wooden stuff in the garage, hunted for "dead indians" (Dad's Very non-politically correct term for archeology,) hunted, fished, hiked.... But on D-Day, he always just sat. He'd sit in a rocking chair in the living room, stare off into space and occasionally, you'd see a tear run down his face. As a kid, I didn't understand but learned to avoid the living room. As a teen, I learned to be respectful when he stopped staring off into space long enough to give me the "This is D-Day" lecture. But I still didn't understand. History was never my thing. It's only been in the last few years that I've become interested and have really started to comprehend the enormity of D-Day and WWII in general. 
Dad told a funny story about landing at Normandy. They'd heard that the previous day hadn't gone well, but.... He was in charge of the radios and communication. He carried a fortune in radios and equipment and figured they'd never send him onto that beach if it wasn't safe. While he was waiting his turn to leave the ship he watched jeeps from other ships float away. The other ship's jeeps were carrying huge vats of water and those vats floated. And caused the jeeps to get carried away. When it came time for dad to leave his ship, he had to drive his jeep standing up because the water would have been over his head if he sat down. His instructions were to hit the beach and immediately dig a fox hole and get into it. Well, as I said, Dad figured they wouldn't risk loosing all that equipment so it must be safe. He hit the beach and ambled up to the one tree still standing. He put down his pack, set up his cot and lay down to rest. Instantly, the tree exploded. He was being shelled. Then he'd end the story with "You never saw a white man dig a hole with his helmet so fast in your life!" 
Dad also told a story about being lost in a snowy pine forest. This one wasn't so funny. In the middle of the night, the Germans attacked his unit's tents. The shells started flying and Dad escaped out of the back of his tent - with no coat, no gun, no supplies. The only thing he did have with him was a little German shrapnel in his knee. For over a week, he was lost and alone in that pine forest. Eventually, he met up with guys from some other country and he hung with them for a while. For several days, they did nothing but walk down a dirt road and chop trees down with axes in hopes of stopping the German tanks. 
Somehow, that story morphed into once again being alone and hearing loud, boisterous voices in the distance. He followed the voices and came upon a HUGE, gigantic wine vat. He was in France after all. In the vat, were 5 or 6 drunken military men swimming in the wine. Of course Dad joined them. 
He told stories of fishing in the Rhine, of trying to hunt rabbits by hand (didn't want to waste a bullet) when there was no other food available. Stories of prostitutes offering free services if Dad would give them one of those rabbits. Of how the women threw themselves at the soldiers when they marched into one particular town in France. The town's people were just so happy to be rescued. 
Dad made all the stories sound like a fun adventure. But I know from the way he'd sit in that rocking chair staring off into space with a tear slowly sliding down his cheek that it wasn't all fun. 
So here's to you, Dad. And all the other men and women involved in WWII, for that matter. Thank you for your service. Thank you for fighting so hard to preserve our freedoms. You'll always be remembered. 

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