Sometimes it seems memories of the past are so real, we need only to reach out and touch the hands of those we held so tightly, many sunsets ago. Most of these faces we will never see again in this place, except in our memories. A smile, a moment in time, and somehow they slipped from our lives forever.
And so it was on a hot summer day in 1944, the local radio stations blasted out the latest song, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree and, a close second: I’ll Always Remember the Forget-Me-Nots in Your Eyes. In New York Times Square the clock read 12:37. America was close to hearing the news: The Allied Invasion of Europe; “ D-Day had begun.”
Seventy some years after history’s bloodiest, ambitious, amphibious landings, D-Day remains to haunt us in its sadness, and remind us of one of the major turning points in WWII.
As Ernie Pyle, war correspondent, observed; “There in a jumbled row for mile on mile were soldiers’ packs. There were socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles, and hand grenades . There were toothbrushes and razors; everywhere lay snapshots of families staring up at you from the sand. An ocean of dead and wounded lay on every side. Every man who set foot on that beach, that day was a hero.
Churchill would later say to Eisenhower; “When I think of the beaches of Normandy choked with the flower of American and British youth, and when in my mind’s eye I saw the tides running red with their blood. I had my doubts, I had my doubts.”
By nightfall of June 6, 1944, some 155, 000 allied troops-carried out this enormously complex operation, gaining a foothold; slowly, almost blindly, so frightened, so determined; and through a thousand acts of individual courage they finally breached Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.
It was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. The debt to the thousands who had lost their lives to Dunkirk would be remembered. But the cost in lives and human suffering were too horrible to put into words; the cries could never be silenced, and the debt could never be repaid.
Isaiah 42:16 “Along familiar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.”
I think that was the day my Mama gave up her radio soaps: Ma Perkins, Our Gal Sunday, The Romance of Helen Trent. “Could a girl from a mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of one of England’s richest lords?” “Was there romance after thirty-five?” “Would Stella Dallas ever give up on her spoiled-rotten daughter, Lolly Baby?” “Who am I “ Mama said, “that I have time to sit with my ear stuck to the radio?”
The simplicity of her days were over; the loneliness would end. Changes were in the air. It was time to prepare, to watch and wait and reassemble our lives piece by piece for the return of our veterans – and gradually some sense of normality for us all. None of it was easy. It all seemed faded and distant. And a sadness washed over us as we tried to remember all the bits and pieces of him, the man we knew so long ago; in our minds, Daddy was a tiny figure in a drab uniform that waved silently a long way off while we moved on without him. In the days and weeks that followed we gave each other anxious glances, but all would be well, when he was home. Thank you Lord.
Finally the war was over and the “lights went on again all over the world” and we were thankful the world was at peace.
It didn’t last long.
Micki Cottle was a long-time columnist for The Sampson Independent who occassionally regales readers with her wit and charm. She is also a member of the Sampson County Historical Society.