80 years on

June 6, 1944 was D-Day, now 80 years ago. Few of those who participated are still alive. My father, who was among those who were sent to Omaha Beach, died in 1994, a few months before the 50th anniversary of D-Day. I was alone with him in the hospital the night before his death and as he approached the last day of his life he reflected on all those who died that day. He was reluctant to discuss Omaha Beach, and only gave short answers to our many questions over the years. But that night he was pondering all the years his life had continued when so many lives of those he knew ended on that June 6th. He spoke openly about the day for the first time I can recall.

I hiked today with two of my daughters, and we talked about their grandfather and D-Day. It is hard for us to even imagine the events of that day. Both my daughters mentioned the opening moments of Saving Private Ryan.

My father told me about seeing one GI whose arm had been blown off who was on the beach carrying his severed arm in his other hand. When Spielberg filmed the landing on Omaha Beach he included that detail. I was surprised by it being in the film, but later learned that before starting the film he had interviewed survivors to get details of that day. Many of the details in that opening scene were things I previously heard described by my father.

My father died 4 years before Saving Private Ryan was released and I’m not sure he could have endured seeing that day depicted so graphically on film.

I had a cheerful, witty and upbeat father. He loved life and was never at a loss to see something positive in each day. He had a bird feeder outside the kitchen window that attracted a variety of birds that he appreciated watching. In hindsight I realize as he approached dying his reflection on those who died that June day had always informed his life. He lived grateful. And I am, and think I have always been, grateful for him.