The Battle of Normandy, which lasted from June to August of 1944, resulted in the liberation of western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control by Allied forces consisting of 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops. The fighting began on June 6th, 1944, also known as D-Day. The invasion was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history.
On June 6, 1984, President Ronald Reagan stood on the north coast of France to deliver a speech honoring the soldiers who had lost their lives at that very spot 40 years earlier on D-Day. “Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man,” Reagan said.
June 6th, 2019 is the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, but I would like to tell you about my experience on the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.
The dialysis unit was a noisy place to work; lots of people, phones ringing, machines beeping and TVs blaring. On June 6th, 1994, the unit was unusually quiet. Even the machines seemed to be behaving. The TVs were tuned to the 50th commemoration of D-Day from France. The eyes of the patients were glued to the TVs. I took the time to go around the room and ask the older patients where they were on D-Day. Three were actually on Normandy Beach.
One told the story of how his best friend was killed as they landed. Shot in the head, he tugged on the patient’s arm and said “Cap, I bought the bullet.” And then collapsed and died. This very gentle man said he stormed the beach seeking revenge for his friend. He made it through physically unharmed and felt guilty that he survived.
Another told how after Normandy, his unit went on to free one of the concentration camps. He was on a detail to bury the mounds of naked dead bodies they found. They placed them in mass graves and it took several days. They had to wear masks, the stench was so bad. He cried telling his story.
The third patient only said that he was there and he lost many friends. He would not talk about it.
A fourth patient said he was in Hawaii on December 7th, 1941. He was in the army and was stationed on the northern side of Oahu. They were awakened on Sunday morning by hundreds of planes flying overhead. They could see they were Japanese planes, but we were not at war with Japan at the time. He also cried when he said “We could have shot down all those Jap planes and saved our boys in the Navy, but we did not know they were going to attack. We just did not know.”
Out of ten patients four were WW II vets. I worked at the VA for 34 years and that was the only time any of them talked about their war experience. I am not sure if they wanted to just forget or they were too proud not to discuss their memories. They probably would not have said anything that day except I asked them. In school, history was sort of dry, just information in a textbook with dates to memorize. I realized then I had the great privilege to care for our nation’s heroes and living history.