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75th anniversary of D-Day


Vivi_music
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Tomorrow I'll be at work, like thousands of other people going to work on a Thursday morning. However my heart will be far away on the beaches of Normandy. I would have loved to spend my day in front of the television watching the ceremonies live, even more so in this 75th anniversary. However, life must follow its course here in Montreal.

I had the immense chance of working as a young tour guide on the Canadian D-Day beaches in 2012. I lived almost 5 months in Normandy. I was in my 20s and it was my first time living abroad, so far from home and family. I discovered myself and it was not always easy being away from home, but it helped me mature and become a better tour guide (a profession I still do today). As part of our work, we visited all of the beaches, Utah, Omaha, Sword and Gold beach. It was amazing to be immersed in the past like this. Long story short: a great life experience that I recommend to every young person.

But the thing I will never forget are the stories I heard and the people I met thanks to my work. I was lucky enough to be invited to a private ceremony on the night of June 6th. On that night, me and my fellow guides listened in amazement to the testimony of a British veteran, describing the sounds that whistled through his ears as he was running on the beach. I still remember that sweet Canadian veteran who visited the beach and museum later during the summer. He simply kissed my hand when I thanked him for his service. Not to mention the generous people of Normandy who shared with us the difficult moments they went through under the German occupation. The Normands are surronded by the remnants of D-Day and WWII, and every generation is very conscious of that. All the ones I met (young and old) carried a special gratitude in their heart for every individual soldier who was part of the Normandy campaign.

As June 6th will come and go, I will especially think of my great-uncles, three of them. It was mainly because of them that I decided to embark on the journey to Normandy. Two were uncles on my mother's side and one of my father's side. Each of them had a different position, one in the artillery, a member of the medical staff and lastly a simple and brave foot soldier (his wife was a member of the Canadian Women's Army Corps as well! Go ladies!). They all participated in the Normandy campaign and the liberation of Europe as members of the Canadian Army. I only knew two of them, one having passed before my birth. It was strange to see how different they approched the memory of D-Day as they were aging. One of them was less vocal whilst the other was very outspoken and shared a lot of his war memories with the family and his community. Considering the traumatic things one must go through during a war, I certainly understand that every person reacts in different ways. Surprisingly, my stay in France also made me bound with my own grandmother. When I came back home, she shared with me everything about her life during the war. I remember the lunches we had, just her, me and my mom. She would go on and on all lunch time, about life here whilst her brother was in Europe (and we gladly listened). The curfews, the rationing, the war effort, her praying for her brother, the fear and the unknown. I cherish these special moments I had with her. Since 2012, all of my great uncles have passed and so has my Grand-Maman, two years ago. A generation that lived through very difficult times.

Later this summer, I am going back to Juno Beach and I can not wait to find myself immersed again in this wonderful place of memory and commemoration.

I simply wanted to create this thread for anyone on FJ who wishes to share their own special link with D-Day. Maybe one of your relatives participated in the Normandy Campaign and liberation of Europe, or maybe you visited the D-Day beaches and were touched by it. The one uncle who shared with us the most said once that it was his moral obligation to remember and talk about such a tragic historical event and its victims, in order to ensure that such an event would not happen again.

I will end a few pictures I took during my stay in Normandy.

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Edited by Vivi_music
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I've been useless at work and following this all day today. I actually got a bit overwhelmed and had to go into the bathroom for a bit. 

It's embarrassing to admit, but I didn't realize how amazing Canada's contributions were, or how many losses it took. I've heard the Normands adore Canadians to this day. 

 

It also occurred to me that this is the last major D-Day anniversary which any sizable number of veterans will be alive for. 

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Three of my grandparents fought in the war, in various roles. I was following some of the commemorations today.

My grandfather crossed the Channel to Normandy in a convoy a day or two after D-Day and saw the boat ahead of him hit a mine and blow up; his transport couldn't stop to help, but had to keep going in order to stay on the swept route through the minefield. He told my family about that only once, late in his life and after a few glasses of wine. (There were ships specifically assigned to assist any unlucky, although I'm sure there was significant loss of life.)

My grandmother's first fiance was a RAF pilot; he died in action.

I hope we never again see such a war.

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My father, my hero, was part of the D-Day landings.  He was not in the first wave, but he did go in on Omaha Beach.  He never talked much about it, but he talked to me more than my siblings - even though my brother is a Vietnam era vet and was on the USS Forestall with John McCain when it burned.  But Dad wasn't able to talk to him or to my sister much, just to me.  He did not tell me a whole lot, but he did tell me that it was not called Bloody Omaha for no reason.  He said that he was actually more scared when he was climbing down to the Higgins boat (the landing craft), because a bullet might not find him on the ship or on the Higgins boat but that if a soldier lost his grip and fell before he got to the Higgins boat, he would go straight down and drown.  Once he got in the Higgins boat, he said training took over and he was not as scared - he was still scared, but not as scared. 

We always had a conversation on June 6, it was by telephone after we moved to Oklahoma but we never missed it.  The last D-Day conversation we had was in 2004, he died the next week.  June 6, 2005 was such a hard day because I just wanted to talk to him.  I was not the best at work today, fortunately I was very busy which helped.  But my mind was with Dad all day long.  I did see some of the coverage on tonight's news, including the presentation by President Macron and a short interview with the veteran he gave the medal to.  As the daughter of a WWII veteran, I am extremely aware of the fact that there are not too many of them left.  That is the natural progression of time.  But it's still a hard fact. 

Most of them were so young when they went off to war, Dad said that he and his friends were forced to grow up in a hurry.  He never regretted his service but he did feel guilty for surviving when so many didn't.  I had his name registered on the WWII Memorial when it was being constructed, which he was very happy about.

A couple of years before my Dad died, he gave me his medals.  I have his Purple Heart, which he earned on June 30, 1944 at St. Lo, France at about 6:00 p.m.  He had several other medals, marksmanship, general medals earned during his service.  He also had a Bronze Star but he would not tell me how he earned it.  They are among my most treasured possessions.  They are not all in the picture I posted.

From a young age, he had me thanking veterans.  He was always so thrilled when someone would thank him.  I continue to thank them, and now I do it in his memory as well.

He is somewhere in the line of soldiers in the D-Day + 1 picture, not in the front part of the line but about the middle.

 

 

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D-Day +1 June 7 1944 Dad Possible.jpg

Edited by Briefly
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7 hours ago, Briefly said:

A couple of years before my Dad died, he gave me his medals.  I have his Purple Heart, which he earned on June 30, 1944 at St. Lo, France at about 6:00 p.m.  He had several other medals, marksmanship, general medals earned during his service.  He also had a Bronze Star but he would not tell me how he earned it.  They are among my most treasured possessions.  They are not all in the picture I posted.

If you want to look for the information on your father's Bronze Star, you can request his military records from the National Archive. https://www.archives.gov/personnel-records-center/military-personnel/ompf-archival-requests

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What a beautiful testimony @Briefly ?Thank you.

Your father and his brothers in arms were all heros in their own right, at least in my eye. But it is true that most D-Day/Normandy veterans I met were very humble and I think felt the ''survivor's guilt'' in regards of their fallen comrades. Every time I would thank them for their service, they would minimize their own contribution and tell me that the soldiers who died were the bravest ones. Which is understandable I think, considering they all these brave men were very young and saw their friends pay the highest price. When in a war, survival is just a lottery basically.

I am certain my great-uncle's medals were passed on to his own children since his passing. But my Grand-maman had her own little chest of memento from the war, from her brother's time in Europe. A lot were letters they wrote each other. But the most fascinating things in that box were a nazi badge (the swastika with an eagle, all embroidered) and a picture. My own memory is failing so I do not know if this anecdote was during the Normandy campaign or during the liberation of the Netherlands (which my great-uncle did both). Anyways. Apparently, during the war, it was not uncommon when one would come across dead bodies, to rob them of a few items. So when Uncle Phil saw some pristine new boots one the feet of a dead German soldier, he served himself; especially considering his were full of holes. He also cut out the Nazi badge on this guy's uniform. I don't know why exactly, maybe as a trophy, or a proof he was there and really fought in that war. He never really explained why. He searched the dead man's pockets for a few more things (maybe cigarettes, money, etc.) and found a picture. For me (and I think for him as well), that simple picture was the most touching. The picture showed two men, in what seemed like a garden. There were groves behind them. One was holding a wheelbarrow behind him and in the wheelbarrow was a little girl. Probably not more than 5 or 6 years old. Apparently, when my uncle saw the picture, he then remembered the guy in front of him was just a fellow human, someone with a family and friends, just like him. Maybe the girl in the picture was his daughter, his niece, his cousin, his best friend's daughter. Who knows. And sadly, she would not see him again. Yes this man was part of the Nazi army, an instrument of fascist and antisemite ideologies. But that little girl also had her life changed by this war.

Phil said it was a bit selfish of him to keep the picture. I think he realized it when he was older. But on the moment he probably felt he had to keep it to tell the story. When he came back to Canada, he gave the Swastika insignia and the picture to his sister. My Grandma kept both in her box all her life. I have seen the picture a few times myself but since my Grandma passed, I have not seen the box. My mom said that one of my aunt kept it, but I wonder if they maybe gave all of it back to G-Uncle's children. I would love to see that picture one day. It is a great reminder that no one wins in a war.

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Not strictly about D-Day, but still WWII stories worth remembering that give you the idea of how it was living and fighting under the Nazi occupation.

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@Vivi_music, I think your great-uncle's story about the boots is something that happened on a fairly regular basis.  The same thing about the items such as the insignia and the picture.  Considering the time and circumstances, it's understandable.  I can not even begin to imagine how alien the experience must have been, how different from everything that the soldiers had ever known.

I know my dad had survivor's guilt.  He talked about his friends not coming back.  I think that is a completely understandable reaction.  I have heard the same thing from other veterans that I heard from him - he wasn't a hero but the ones who didn't come back were.  But they all are, really and that includes your great-uncle.  And my dad will always be mine.

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