Today is the 68th anniversary of D-Day. Eight years ago, I was lucky enough to participate in the ceremony recognizing the 60th anniversary of the invasion. I can’t think of another experience I had in the Army that was more special. I got to record some interviews with a few veterans of that invasion and somewhere I have two or three mini DV tapes on which I recorded some of their stories.
One man had been in a wheelchair since the war. He told me about the friends he lost that day — some to gunfire, some to water, some to both. A couple of weeks later he met a French woman who eventually became his wife. The first part of that story was told distantly; the second tearfully. I always wonder how someone could manage to court a foreign woman in the middle of a war; I really hope I asked him that…
There was another guy who I spoke to under a shady tree. I remember because the light was behind him and he looks like a silhouette. His memories weren’t of storming the beach, but of advancing through France over the following months. He said that they’d walk through the most beautiful farmlands and countryside, only to have it ruined by the carcasses of livestock rotting in the fields. He told me how the French farmers would come out to offer the advancing Allied soldiers fresh milk, even though it was scarce and they often had to dodge gunfire to do it.
I remember the guy who played it off like D-Day was just another day. I asked him if he was scared when the door of his landing craft opened and he jumped into the water. He said, “It didn’t bother me at all.” I still don’t believe him, but what do I know.
I visited France for this event in the midst of a really unpopular war. The whole time I was there, I wore the uniform of the Army that was in Iraq, a war the French were against. But I remember that I was never burdened with a bill for food or drink. Strangers came up to me and shook my hand. One little girl came up and hugged me and her father asked if she could have one of my dog tags (don’t tell anyone, but I gave one to her).
I don’t really have a point to make. As we watch more and more of our WWII veterans pass away, I feel it’s increasingly important to remember on days like today, so that’s what I’m doing. I hope that as I write this, a cool breeze is coming off the English Channel and the sun is shining brightly on those headstones. Someday I’ll have to do something with those stories.