COLUMN: D-Day plus 80 | Oklahoma

“Deep down, American citizen soldiers knew the difference between good and evil, and they did not want to live in a world where evil prevailed. So they fought and won, and we, all of us, living and yet unborn, must be forever deeply grateful. — Author Stephen Ambrose

This week in history will never happen again. Thursday marked the 80th anniversary of the day soldiers, sailors and airmen from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Free France and Norway were among the 176,000 who set out on the then-uncertain quest to liberate Europe and the world from the Nazis of Adolf Hitler’s totalitarian Germany.

As I write this, I am amazed that 80 years have passed and the number of veterans on this terrible but inspiring day in world history is dwindling, with most of them being 100 years old or more.

I wouldn’t even be born until five years after the largest amphibious military landing in history, but I certainly heard about D-Day from my father.

He studied World War II because, upon graduating from Elk City High School in 1944, he enlisted and served in the Navy during the final year of the conflict.

Some 4,892 films, mini-series, documentaries and television episodes have been made about this war.

Many were exceptional.

The two that come to mind most are “Saving Private Ryan” and the miniseries “A Band of Brothers.”

For what?

Because they represented the common soldier like no other.

They depict everyday heroism and the ugliness that is war.

War is not glory. It is profoundly cruel – always has been and always will be – since it involves human beings killing other human beings.

But war is also about the heroic actions of many individuals and their individual wars within themselves – and their stories must be preserved.

They were simply trying to make the best of situations, overcoming fears and the instinctive complexity of a soldier, sailor, or airman’s inner battles against fear.

Because, you see, the war is going to start again.

It’s inevitable. This is happening in various places all over planet Earth.

This is currently happening in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip. In fact, there are 32 armed conflicts underway across the world as I write this.

Talking about what they experienced during the war, through life and death struggles in places like Normandy, the Bulge, Iwo Jima and Pearl Harbor, down to minor engagements, has scarred many for life. The sights, sounds and smells of death and destruction on a sometimes massive scale during any battle are taken in by every individual who, in one way or another, took part in a battle during of this world war.

My Uncle Harry absolutely refused to talk about the war, despite my best efforts as a teenager to get him to talk to me about it.

He was a Navy landing craft operator during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in the fall of 1944, when his craft was blown out of the water by a Japanese shell.

You could see in his eyes and through his life that the war and everything he had experienced weighed on him every day.

It was only later that I learned some of what he had experienced from my father.

We must never forget or neglect the fact of multiplying my uncle’s terrible experience by millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen.

They say that time heals all wounds. I’m not sure this is accurate, at least for those who experienced war or have loved ones who experienced it.

Time simply gives people and nations time to face all the horrors and consequences of war – not forget them.

War is about killing, injuring and destroying your enemy and their will to fight.

This is war in essence and always has been.

War is also about individual and collective heroism.

This paraphrase, taken from another soldier’s observation of a dead American soldier at Pointe-du-Hoc in Normandy, offers a vivid description: In a semi-circle around the burrow lay the bodies of nine German soldiers. The body closest to the hole was only a meter away, a grenade in hand. The other distorted forms lay where they had fallen, a testament to the ferocity of the fight. His ammunition belts were still on his shoulders, empty of M-1 magazines. Shell casings littered the ground. His rifle butt was broken in two. He had fought alone and, like many others that night, he had died alone. I looked at his dog tags. The name was Martin V. Hersh. I wrote his name in a small prayer book I carried with me, hoping to one day meet someone who would know him. I have never done.

We have now passed the 80th milestone of the landing of June 6, 1944 – let us not forget that.

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