WOSTER: When heroes walked among us
This Friday, it will be 70 years since D-Day. Well, of course. I'm 70, and I was born just a few months before D-Day.
D-Day, as every American must know, refers to the Allied military invasion across the Channel and up the beaches of France to carry the fight to the German army. It marked the start of the deciding battles and military campaigns that ended World War II in the European Theater.
Most of the military personnel who were involved in the Normandy landing are gone. Only a handful of the longest-lived among them remain alive. They were a unique generation, those soldiers and sailors and fliers who answered the call to serve their country in a time of war, fought battle after battle and then returned home -- those who survived -- to work jobs, raise families and do the normal things many of the rest of us have been able to do without first having spent a few of our best years saving the world for democracy.
I grew up knowing at least in a general way the story of D-Day and the larger stories of World War II. Obviously, I didn't remember any of it first-hand. I was 16 months old when the war ended in Europe. The war I remember a little bit about first-hand was Korea. That's because I was starting school and sharing in schoolboy conversations that parroted conversations my friends and I had heard (or misheard, as was often the case) our parents and their friends had as they discussed the war. The war that my generation fought happened in southeast Asia, and the country and the world had changed much by that time.
World War II, though -- with Pearl Harbor and the Doolittle Raiders, sea battles and island beachheads in the Pacific and D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge in Europe -- was heroic stuff for me. I grew up at a time when veterans of that war were still relatively young as they walked the streets of Chamberlain. I grew up at a time when the histories of that war were to be found in daily papers and news magazines rather than in the history textbooks in the grade school. It wasn't current events, but it was pretty close.
Hollywood made many movies about World War II, and the movies generally depicted the soldiers and sailors and pilots as heroes. I grew up on those kinds of movies, with the landing craft and hillside bunkers and other World War II battles and themes. Always, somewhere in the talking and reading and movie watching, there was D-Day.
I grew up thinking Dwight David Eisenhower was the greatest military commander who ever lived. I've read other opinions since. I'm glad I didn't read them at the time, because he was president of the country when I was in grade school. He was a war hero turned political leader who looked like everyone's grandpa. He was president at a time when most people -- not everyone, I'm sure, but many of us, children and adults alike -- respected the presidency and the person who occupied the office of president of the United States.
I respected Harry Truman, though I was barely old enough to understand what he represented. I really, truly respected Ike, the general who ordered the invasion of Europe.
I saw a news clip recently about a veteran in his 90s who had parachuted into France just before the assault on the beaches in 1944. He said he plans to observe that feat by jumping again onto the ground where he landed and fought seven decades ago. The old vet, according to the news reporter, also described that period in our nation's history as a time when right was right and wrong was wrong -- and people knew the difference.
Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to a time like that. People call it a simpler time. It wasn't simpler. It's pretty complicated to fight a war that covers half the globe. It was perhaps a clearer time -- not simple, certainly not easy, but maybe clearer.
It was a time worth a moment of remembrance on Friday.