I won’t belabor my point and post today. Suffice it to say that 65 years ago today, a brave group of men from America and our Allies launched the largest beach assault the world had ever seen. It was the beginning of the campaign to retake Europe from the hands of a madman. It was D-Day for Operation Overlord.
Every June 6, I always miss Papa Wham even more than on other days. Papa was a member of the Big Red One, the US Army’s First Infantry Division. His DD-214 reads like a map of the European / African / Mediterranean Theater of WWII. The one battle he would never discuss with me, however, was that day at Normandy. From snatches overheard in the back room of the store Papa ran while the old men talked about The War when they thought I wasn’t listening, this is what I managed to piece together.
Papa was in the fourth wave to hit Omaha Beach. The two boats to either side of his were blown to bits by artillery, probably an .88 on Point Du Hoc, before they ever made the surf line. He was one of ten men to get out of his LC-I alive when the ramp dropped, one of five to reach the beach proper through the surf, one of three to take cover behind a tank barricade, and the single survivor of that craft once the sun had set. From that strip of beach, he walked all the way to the Rhine River.
In any event, Papa wouldn’t ever watch the movie “The Longest Day” and he was gone on before “Saving Private Ryan” made Tom Hanks a legend. Normally, he didn’t have flashbacks and if he suffered PTSD (as I’m certain he must have to some degree) he suffered quietly, but around D-Day, he would often get moody and, every tenderhearted, he would cry much easier than usual. Daddy, who had fought in his own war, tried to explain it to me as Papa’s way of remembering all those boys on that beach so far away.
As for me, all I can say is how much I appreciate Papa making it home, but I also appreciate all those young lifes who gave up all their tomorrows so that I could have a future. I only knew my papa, but I imagine there were many, many papas among those boys. Many papas who would never get to bounce a grandchild on their knees, but who were willing to die storming a beach to assure that someone would bounce that grandchild in freedom.
Freeing Europe from the Nazi fist was a job that had to be done, and Papa Wham, and the tens of thousands of men like him, did it. God help us if that need should ever arise again. Given the “me first” attitude and utter decadence of our current American society, I doubt a modern day Hitler would have anything to worry his sleep.