Thursday, June 5, 2014
Long before D-Day, the men on the battle-fields and the family members left behind sacrificed in ways we will never quite appreciate. Many of us kids have made fun of our parents and grandparents when they would scrimp and save, keeping cans of used fat, darning old socks, eating left-overs and turning off lights, saying to them in frustration, “Why on earth don’t you live a little?”
We, our generation, was who they fought for, who they sacrificed for, and once you live without for what seems like a five year warring lifetime, the habit is instilled. Pay by cash, don’t amass debt, don’t abuse nor live in excess, your word and your handshake, your bond.
No, all was quiet on the Western Front, or so they thought, in the late-night and wee morning hours, exactly 70 years ago this very minute. North Americans were enjoying their evening papers, while the British slept in their beds, but quietly and with the greatest force of manpower and materiel ever amassed, an entire modern-day Trojan Horse was being assembled on the English Channel, the likes of which had never been seen in human history.
Patton had done his bit very successfully, promoting his grand fake army positioned near Folkstone facing Calais. A vast Division of balloon ships, artillery pieces, army jeeps and tanks, fake airplanes and fake radio communications, fooling the Nazis into thinking that when the Allied attack on France did happen, it would surely happen on the beaches of Calais. And for all their intelligence and diligence, the Germans were fooled, no member of the Nazi High Command ever thinking Patton would head anything but a legitimate force. Of course, Patton hated Eisenhower for giving him this order but it was this sneaky strategy which enabled complete tactical surprise on those five beaches in Normandy at dawn on June 6, 1944.
By the time Britain's were rising from their beds, padding downstairs to put the kettle on for yet another of many such tea brews which sustained them through the war years and those awful Blitzkrieg air attacks, from the Messerschmitt's to the V1 & V2’s, a floating armada of Allied battleships and troop carriers, an advance party of paratroopers and glider pilots, all quietly fought the turbulent Channel winds to land on French soil and begin what would be the eventual ending of that horrible Nazi Regime.
My Mother was only 18 years old on June 6th, June 4th being her birthday, working for the Medical Division of the Canadian National Railway in Winnipeg. My Father was 30, defending our Canadian soil as a Constable in the RCMP. Their Generation smoking cigarettes, reading newspapers, listening to the radio and living on food rations, scrimping and saving wherever and whenever they could.
These people are dying now by the hundreds and with this 70th anniversary the last World War as a living memory will become a thing of the past, only read in history books and talked about dispassionately, for the heart and the soul of that last, great fight, is dying with those people who made it happen.
The world holds court now with the children and grand-children of those brave men and women and we have assumed their gift of freedom as a birth-right, something which will never be at risk again. We celebrate this so-called “fact” by buying everything on credit, amassing great personal debt, buying material objects which are well beyond our means and not caring, really, if what we are doing and how we are living, flies in the face of what was so precious to the Greatest Generation who fought so hard and sacrificed so much for that freedom – the freedom of choice, the freedom of voice – the freedom to forget and not appreciate and the freedom to abuse.
Tomorrow, not many will care.
Tomorrow, not much will be said nor reported on TV.
Tomorrow, not many will walk the beaches of Normandy, literally or figuratively, nor will many know or care why those beaches, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword matter and are so integral to this, our generation.
More graves will be dug for their generation, more headstones etched with names only remembered by a few and not by the many. And once our generation of Baby-boomers dies, no visitors will stand over those graves to appreciate the bravery and the sacrifice made by such an exceptional human breed. The war, the fields, all those cemeteries, all just historical factoids and archaeological sites.
Today, right now, in Normandy, the skies are overcast, threatening storms, the winds up and picking up now over the Channel and on those beach-heads, precisely as they did all those decades ago. The ghosts of the men getting shot by machine gun fire as they bolted off the Higgins boats, ducking against the metal tripod beach emplacements in sheer terror, the explosions of anti-tanks mines surrounding them, the cries and moans of the wounded and the dying floating in the sea and lying crumpled on the sand, those sounds of hellish war all muffled now by those same Channel winds of today, heard only, faintly, as a haunting memory in the minds of a very few, now in their late eighties or nineties, who lived through that tumultuous time.
If today you have a living parent or grand-parent from this generation, give them an extra long hug, tell them you love them and thank them and mean it. They fought for and valiantly grasped the key to everything you now enjoy, now hold dear and take so for granted. Walk those beaches in your own mind today and tomorrow and replace your greediness with a wee bit of humility, even for one day, what was the Longest Day in the history of man.
It won’t kill you but it did kill them.
Thank-you and God Rest their Souls.
Title Photo: the70thnormandy.com; Patton: fineartamerica.com; D Day: Getty Images via cnn.com