Friday, June 6, 2008
The Longest Day
We wandered through these graves in Normandy, France, observing an older couple and their middle-aged daughter. The two women walked arm-in-arm silently wiping tears as they looked at the many names on each of the Crosses and Stars of David. The man trailed respectfully behind a few feet, carrying his hat, obviously concerned for the women.
It was April, 1984, just before the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, and a few weeks before the crowds and memorial services began in earnest. It was an overwhelming task to comprehend the enormity of the battle, and loss of life, in such a peaceful, beautiful setting. We couldn't imagine how much had depended on the success of the Allied armies. But with the numberless young men whose lives changed that June 6th long ago, here was one single boy being sought by his family. The woman, who had traumatically lost her 1st love, and later found new hope with the gentle man escorting her to see a stone commemorating her soldier; the daughter born after her father's death, and raised in the shadow of his memory. It was a poignant observance.
We watched them wander through the crosses counting each grave, lost in thoughts. We came upon them a few minutes later, kneeling with some flowers, brushing back the dirt, and reading the plaque with his name close up. The women shed tears, hugging each other, and the step-father stood tactfully behind them, allowing their moment of recognition, pride and grief, before he gathered them in his arms and escorted them back.
It felt like a sacred place. I don't know how many of you usually celebrate D-Day. It's my husband (Dee's) special holiday, and he wraps up in his flag, divvies up some spam sandwiches, and breaks out The Longest Day. Saving Private Ryan is the second feature. Our kids actually think he participated in the invasion, he has such reverence for it. He was actually just a pit of fear in his big sister's tummy, when whew heard promises of a baby brother after daddy came home from the war. But understanding WWII is Dee's specialty and we salute him with respect.
It was a time of unification, sacrifice, patriotism, pride and tears. It's worth remembering. Although I was but a lick on an upside down stamp at the time (do you get it??) my parents and other young lovers were seeing a glimmer of hope that they could go back to homemade ice cream at a backyard picnic, a ride in their brother's convertible, and a kiss on the top of a Ferris wheel. By D-Day, people quoted Winston Churchill with faith, when he said, "This is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end; but it could be the end of the beginning."
You'll know it's D-Day when an historian starts giving lengthy answers to questions you never asked. You can cagily say, "Hey, where was Utah Beach?'' And then casually sit him in front of the DVD with John Wayne or Tom Hanks. He'll melt onto the couch and you won't hear from him for several hours! Just be ready later with a question like, "Did Bradley like Monte?" Curl up with a pillow for a longest-day answer and you'll be revered as the D-Day Date. (Your evening may be remembered as the Longest Night.)