Sunday, June 6, 2010

Back Page News

We tax all the others and pass the revenue on to you

It was on the back page of our local rag this morning.  You can be forgiven if you overlooked it, it was just an anniversary. OTOH, it was a pretty big event back in the day.  On this date 66 years ago more than 10,000 men died for you.  In one day, on one 50-mile stretch of beach. Think about it.

The anniversary of the invasion of Normandy was still a big event back in 1994, on the 50th.  I remember the allied leaders meeting on the beaches, saluting the vets, promising everlasting gratitude for their sacrifices.  Everlasting doesn't mean much these days.  There was a smaller celebration in 2004 and not much of anything this year.  What's left to say and who is there to say it to?  

Here's what they saw when the ramps dropped:

My friend Ray, gone now, went ashore on Omaha Beach the night before.  He departed a submarine in the English Channel, then he and his men rowed their rubber rafts ashore.  He was a combat engineer, a lieutenant, and his mission was to clear some assault paths between the maze of obstacles that the Germans had placed on the beaches in anticipation of the invasion.  It wasn't his first time on Omaha Beach.  He'd been there before.  

Granted, it was too little and too late to do much but they did their best.  When they were done they dug in  at the base of the cliffs of Pont du Hoc and waited first for the shelling, then for the invasion.  While he was at the base of the cliffs he could look directly behind at scenes like this, and he could help:

Then up the cliffs he went, becoming an ad hoc infantry platoon leader for the next few weeks until he re-joined an engineer unit.  He survived the invasion and the next 11 months of war but many of his men didn't. Here's a detail from a bronze at the National D-Day Memorial.  It's what he did when he climbed the cliff.  Take a good look.  He's doing it for you.

When you look back at Omaha Beach from the Normandy American Cemetery, you get a glimpse of the task that the invading armies faced:

Looking another direction, you can see the price they paid:

Say something to someone about Normandy today.  If you can find a D-Day vet, by all means thank him.  They're hard to find, though, and they don't often make known what they did.  But say something, to a neighbor maybe, or a friend.  Make sure your kids know about it, about them, about worlds that ended and worlds that opened up that day.  It's the least you can do.  We can never repay what we owe them but we can tell their story, the story that my newspaper failed to tell.

That back page article in today's paper?  It wasn't about the invasion, not really.  It was about the crumbling cliffs at Pont du Hoc, the cliffs that Ray hid below, then scaled.  The story?  They're eroding away, as all cliffs must, and the effort being made to restore them.  That was the best the AP could do, a story that could have been written on any other day, a story about eroding cliffs.  

The real story, of course, is of eroding memories, those of the participants and our own.  When we stop remembering events of such colossal world import, who will restore US?

No D-Day editorials today, either.  It has become politically inconvenient to acknowledge American sacrifices.  I could find only one other nod to D-Day in the paper:  Charles Schultz's immortal D-Day tribute, showing a photo of Ike exhorting his 101st Airborne troops on the afternoon of the 5th.  They would jump, and die, in just a few hours.  Snoopy is there, too, as everyman and representing all of us, geared up and looking at Ike.  The simple caption:

June 6, 1944 - To Remember - 

Thank you, Ray.  Thank you to all who served and fought and suffered.  I remember who gave my children their freedom. 

by Graham Nash

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

[Counter Melody To Above Verse:
Can you hear and do you care and
Cant you see we must be free to
Teach your children what you believe in.
Make a world that we can live in.]

Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you. 

I remember the first time I heard that song, in 1970 in Vietnam.  It still affects me the same way it did then.  Click the title and watch the video.  

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1 comment:

  1. Powerful words and pictures. Thank you for keeping the faith!