Diane Covington Carter: ‘Think not only of their passing; remember the glory of their spirit’
Special to The Union
Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the largest air, sea and land invasion in the history of the world. It set in motion events that changed the course of World War II and turned the tide against the Germans.
It is also a day when so many young Americans died in that effort.
In the 75 years that have passed, most of the brave soldiers who fought in D-Day and World War II are gone. A few who are left will return for the celebration and ceremonies, a long and arduous journey to pay homage to their comrades who didn’t come home from the battle and to remember what happened all those years ago.
France and the Normandy beaches hold memories that were the most terrible in their lives. But they also hold something else.
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The war changed them. They landed there as boys and went home as men who had risked their lives hour after hour, day after day and week after week, throughout the war. And because of their bravery and their honor, the rest of us can live in a world that cherishes freedom. We can live lives in which we are free to think for ourselves, choose from our core values and not from an order imposed from the outside.
In America, we value diversity and independence. But without the soldiers who fought and died 75 years ago, we would not be living the life of freedom we sometimes forget to be grateful for.
My father was one of those men who put his life on the line so that my life could be better. I was lucky. He lived and came home so that I could be born after the war, one of the millions of the post war baby-boom generation.
My mother told me that when my father returned from the war, he had nightmares for years. He’d wake up in a cold sweat, crying out and flailing his arms, his eyes blank with terror and pain. Many of those nights, he wouldn’t sleep again for hours, but would wander through the house, checking on my two older brothers, tucking them in, watching them breathe safely in their beds.
As he listened to the quiet, he could also hear the sounds of war in his head, the explosion of bombs, the sound of planes overhead, the cries of wounded and dying men, all against the backdrop of the roar of the sea.
I was lucky. I was born years later and my father had found a way to deal with those demons and to go on to live a productive and happy life.
I was also lucky in another way. The stories my father told around the yellow Formica dinner table were about his happy memories of his time in France. He’d describe the kindness of the French people, their gratitude and especially his relationship with a little French orphan boy, Gilbert, who dad tried to adopt and bring home with him.
Dad’s stories about France became as much a part of my childhood as the fresh country air that I breathed. France was a country that was already known to me and French a language I had to learn.
As a journalist, I have been to the 50th, 60th and 70th anniversaries of D-Day in Dad’s honor and will be in France for the 75th to honor my father and all the brave men who fought there so long ago.
Almost 10,000 of them are buried at the cemetery above Omaha Beach, a piece of designated American soil on the French coast. At the ceremonies, we’ll honor the living and the dead soldiers, remember them and thank them for the sacrifices they made.
In a miracle of fate, I found Gilbert, the French orphan, at the 50th anniversary of D-Day, 1994. When I told Gilbert how much Dad loved him and had never forgotten him, Gilbert wept. I will be staying with his widow and extended family this trip.
And standing there with us, unseen, will be all the men who never came home. The words from the cemetery chapel above Omaha beach in Normandy express it well: “Think not only of their passing. Remember the glory of their spirit.” We will remember them that day and I hope, from now on.
Diane Covington-Carter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Union. Her award-winning memoir, “Finding Gilbert, A Promise Fulfilled” tells the story of finding her father’s French orphan. Visit http://www.dianecovingtoncarter.com for information.
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