June 6 – 70 years ago. D-Day. A time that changed the world

[Editor’s note: This story by David Henderson first appeared in BoomerCafé in summer 2010. June 6, 2014, marks 70 years since Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy in acts of gallantry that changed not only the outcome of World War II but the whole world. On the ridge above Omaha Beach is the U.S. cemetery where thousands of Americans who were killed during the invasion are buried.]

BoomerCafé publisher and co-founder David Henderson has just taken a tour. It started out as a tour of just one field of war, but emotionally, it turned out to be a tour of the full array of wars America has fought since the first baby boomer was conceived. He describes it for BoomerCafé in his “Normandy Journal: The 9,387.”

I am walking in one of the saddest and most peaceful places I know. Before me are the grave markers of fallen American servicemen and women … white marble markers of 9,387 who died during the D-Day invasion and the ensuing battles. The place is the Normandy American Cemetery, above Omaha Beach.

Normandy2

While I am not related to any of the fallen who are resting here, the place has a spiritual draw. I have visited several times over three decades. I believe it is holy ground because of what it stands for.

Couples, families, and individuals walk quietly, respectfully among the graves and along walkways lined with pine trees. Steven Spielberg captured the majesty of this place so well in the reflective opening of scene of “Saving Private Ryan.”

My wife remarks that while their earthly remains are here, their souls long ago left this soil and were welcomed by God and all the angels. I think she’s right.

There are flowers at the foot of the cross for Pvt. Anthony J. Chiappinelli from Rhode Island, who died July 27, 1944. And, a note that tells a story. It reads, “Until we meet Daddy. Love, Anne.”  Apparently, a daughter who never met her father.

The sad little note among the flowers says, "Until we meet Daddy. Love, Anne."

The sad little note among the flowers says, “Until we meet Daddy. Love, Anne.”

The fallen lying in rest here were of our parents’ generation. And, America was a very different place then … largely rural and isolated from the rest of the world until the war came along. It was a simpler time.

The invasion at Normandy had very clear purpose – good versus evil – and that purpose galvanized the country. Hitler and his Nazis were evil in every imaginable way. The objective of the invasion was to put an end to the evil, and that was accomplished less than a year later with victory in Europe.

But, has our generation … a baby boomer-led country … learned any lessons? I can’t help but reflect on such things when I visit this place where the world was changed in 1944.

In World War II, America defeated Hitler and the Nazis. Conflicts today are more complex, intentions murky, and agenda-driven initiatives labeled “war on terror.” We invade countries without clear purpose or objectives. We remain in far-off places for years, trying to figure out what we are doing between fighting elusive enemies that always seem to change and helping people who often want us to go home.

A pressing and dangerous threat metastasizes below our border, in Mexico, where drug gangs run rampant. Thousands have been murdered. America’s involvement in the Middle East continues, costing the country untold billions of dollars.

Omaha Beach at Normandy … forever hallowed earth.

Omaha Beach at Normandy … forever hallowed earth.

At the same time, we run our country to the verge of bankruptcy trying to pay for wars and tax cuts to make rich people happy while bridges rust, the country’s infrastructure ages and deteriorates, politicians play for votes and money, and a former standup comedian stands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and urges his followers to “restore America,” code words for its own kind of extremism.

I stand, looking out over Omaha Beach and think about how those honored souls in this cemetery inspired not only a nation but the world for years to come. And, they brought peace, at least for a while. Have we baby boomers done as well?

 

4 Comments

  1. Today is a day to commemorate and reflect upon the heroism and sacrifice of so many that changed and saved the world. Your story is a fitting tribute to those who gave everything they had to free the world of an evil that, but for them, could have engulfed the world. I was privileged to pay my respects personally a number of years ago and the sight of all those rows upon rows of white grave markers, crosses interspersed with Stars of David will forever be etched in my minds eye. Thank you David.

  2. Your thoughts and observations of four years ago are no less poignant now, David. The contrast to where we were as a people and where we are bears investigation and scrutiny before we completely lose our way. June 6, 1944 should never be forgotten, and the war, so dire and so important, should be learned and re-learned for all time. We need to care enough to start challenging what our country does in the name of police actions to skirt the scrutiny and rules of war. Thank you for your observations and caring.

  3. Thanks David for this piece. My Dad started fighting the war at this beach too, so it hits home. Your observations of sacrifices made by those who fought here are keen-edged, and they expand beyond the past to the present, which makes it more poignant. And then I think what would it be like now had they not died here, or at Gettysburg, or Yorktown? Inconceivable. I can’t even envision it. So bless them all.

  4. David, you wrote: “A pressing and dangerous threat metastasizes below our border, in Mexico, where drug gangs run rampant.” They were once drug gangs; now they are powerfully-equipped militias – some estimate their numbers in the hundreds of thousands. They include well-trained top-of-the-line former police officers and former military; they might better be termed “drug armies” and they have every potential to wreak havoc in the USA – particularly with the powerful weapons they have purchased from US sources. The insistence of US gun no-control advocates that our citizenry should be better equipped than our government so that the armed citizenry can overthrow our government should it become a tyranny, is boomeranging and will cost us very dearly with these drug armies that can now stand toe-to-toe in weaponry.

    Perhaps Shoghi Effendi, Head of the Baha’i Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957 saw a storm brewing on the US-Mexico border when he wrote of the situation facing the USA in 1938:

    “Dangers, undreamt of and unpredictable, threaten it both from within and from without. Its governments and peoples are being gradually enmeshed in the coils of the world’s recurrent crises and fierce controversies. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are, with every acceleration in the march of science, steadily shrinking into mere channels. The Great Republic of the West finds itself particularly and increasingly involved. Distant rumblings echo menacingly in the ebullitions of its people. On its flanks are ranged the potential storm centers of the European continent and of the Far East. On its southern horizon there looms what might conceivably develop into another center of agitation and danger.”

    Mexico will absolutely not permit armed US soldiers to assist in the cleansing of its country from this astonishingly vicious scourge. This is the result of centuries of a false sense of superiority on the part of Americans towards Mexicans; and the distorted picture and profound distrust of the American government the average Mexican has. The average citizens of both countries could go a long way towards ameliorating the situation and preventing catastrophe by a radical change in these attitudes.

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