Seventy-three years ago today, the man who would be my father in three short years landed on Omaha beach in Normandy, France. It was his first time in France. Nine thousand of his fellow soldiers never made it across the sand of the beaches of Normandy. Many of them drowned before they even reached the beach because the landing crafts that were to bring them to the shore dumped them in water over their heads. Their heavy packs dragged them straight to the bottom where they drowned, sometimes within a foot of the surface where they would have been able to breath. Those who were fortunate enough to find ground for their feet struggled to shore under a heavy blanket of machine-gun fire. They were sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. The sand on the beach was dyed red with the blood of boys in their teens and twenties.
Somehow, and he didn’t even know how, my father managed to cross that strand of death. He didn’t like to talk about it. He’d seen too much death, lost too many comrades. General George S. Patton said, “War is hell.” My dad, like so many other men and women in those days, needed no reminder. Their reality was so different from the reality of people in their teens and twenties living in America today that there is literally no comparison. In a very real sense the youth of today have wooden hearts. My father brought back two purple hearts from his time galavanting across Europe. He had been wounded twice. He never talked about that but I knew where he kept his purple hearts in a drawer. I think my mother may have shown them to me when I was a boy. So many young men died that getting wounded was no ticket home. They patched you up in a field hospital and sent you back with your rifle and gear to fight until they couldn’t patch you up anymore or the war was won.
You won’t see much in the news in America today about that horrible day when so many young men fell lifeless on foreign soil. Thankfully a British artist named Jamie and about sixty volunteers took to the beaches of Normandy with rakes and stencils in hand to etch nine thousand silhouettes in the sand, representing fallen soldiers. The sixty were joined by about five hundred locals residents who went out to help them when they heard about the effort. A few hours later the tide washed it all away. They remembered. They honored those brave, selfless men while we argued over restrooms and rights. I’d say we had hearts of stone rather than wood but I know it’s not the fault of the young people today. They haven’t been educated to respect and honor the sacrifice that insured their freedom to protest, whine and complain about simple things those boys would have never dreamed possible, like a cup of real coffee or a hot meal.
My dad was far from perfect. The horrors that he experienced I can never know. He’s no longer with us and I will never understand who he was before the war that changed everything for him and so many others. There were few heroes who came back because they are all heroes to me. I wasn’t always grateful for my dad when I was a boy, but I am eternally grateful now. For him and millions of other dads who did what no generation has done since. They will go virtually unremembered in America today because of the plethora of wooden hearts occupying the place of hearts of flesh and blood in the chests of the perpetually ignorant. Today, seventy-three years ago was a sad day for many brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers who were soon to hear that their loved ones were not coming home. Today, seventy-three years later it is a sad day because we lack history, respect and honor for those who made it possible for us to have wooden hearts. Today I grieve not so much for the men who gave their lives, but for the people who will never know nor care.