It’s funny how thoughts can merge. The other night news about new travel restrictions when it comes to Cuba and the decision’s effect on the cruise ship industry reminded me of how my parents had taken an ocean liner to Europe following the Second World War. This came to me the night before the anniversary of D-Day. Though not involved in D-Day, my father had served in the war, and like many vets very rarely talked about it.
Our perception of time can be elastic. Even 20 years ago can feel like not all that long ago from the vantage point of today, but the Second World War already seemed very distant in time if you were growing up in the 1960s or ’70s. Films like “The Longest Day,” which depicted D-Day, for the most part kept the horrors of war at a distance for those in the theater seats. My regard for World War II was like thinking about the Trojan War: distant and heroic, and attractive from a kid’s perspective in which war could seem like a game
It’s anything but, of course, but the horror of war can remain distant to those who are not participating in it first hand. The war in Afghanistan, for example, is now 18 years on.
I was just reading about Ernie Pyle, who became famous for his coverage focusing on the frontline troops in North Africa, Europe and then Japan, where he died when a machine gun bullet went through his temple. He had started out covering the Second World War in what I suppose you could describe as a cheerleading fashion, but according to a report I read in the Times, his approach began to change while he was covering the D-Day invasion. The piles of bodies, the sheer carnage, the cost of war, began to inform his reporting as never before. Readers back home were now getting a clearer picture of what was actually going on. He became a celebrity journalist, and when he returned home following the defeat of Nazi Germany, he found civilian life uncomfortable and headed off to cover the war in the Pacific.
The lesson of D-Day, or one of its lessons, is of grim necessity. Since we know how it turned out, since we’ve seen the movie many times, we are removed from the perils of the moment, the doubt that must have clawed at the mind: what if it had failed? Hence the bodies of the dead at Normandy are a testament to firm resolve. The fate of the world was clearly at stake.
One of the most touching accounts I’ve read about during the days surrounding the anniversary was a comment in an Associated Press story from a 10-year-old boy in France. “There are so many who have died for us, to rescue us,” said Martin Deshayes, who was among the French children participating in a ceremony at Normandy commemorating the anniversary. This is a sentiment that should not be forgotten, and it was moving to read about the gathering of children with World War II veterans.
Because the war turned out the way it did, the U.S. was propelled into being the leader of the free world. A depleted Europe and ascendant communism made the role inevitable, you could say. In that regard, D-Day heralded the birth of a new nation, which along with the great sacrifice of those who served that day, makes every D-Day anniversary worth solemn honoring.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org