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As the 75th Anniversary of D-Day approaches we will be reminded of that fateful day on the beaches of Normandy through black and white photographs and newsreels of the time America saved the world.

You will hear it referred to as Operation Overlord…

The nightly news commentators might mention Omaha, Gold or Sword Beaches and Pointe du Hoc or more accurately La Pointe du Hoc and they may even talk briefly about the young Army Rangers that braved the fire and brimstone of German guns to seize those heights above the beaches.

You might see or hear General Eisenhower’s speech to the troops

There will be pictures of olive drab clad young men in landing craft and in ships bobbing around in the English Channel.

The American memories of that historical day much like the participants themselves are fading like the black and white images taken during those days.

The twenty year old boy in 1944 would be a 95 year old man today.

Many of them are or were your relatives, neighbors and friends.

They are leaving us…..

But there was a time in my own youth when there were plenty of veterans of World War II and of D-Day everywhere.

There was Mr. Freidman who owned Freidman’s Hardware Store who never minded answering questions from a little boy about the black and white picture of a Sherman tank and its crew on the wall behind the cash register of his store.

I asked him about German tanks once…..

Mr. Freidman said…”Son let me tell you, the first time I saw a German Tiger tank in those French hedgerows I pooped all over myself.”

Mister Roger was a Captain and a Company Commander with the 101st Airborne Division as they parachuted into France the night before D-Day. He showed me a black and white picture of him once, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, a dirty helmet cocked on the side of his head with a Thompson .45 caliber machinegun slung over his shoulder.

I thought he looked like a Hollywood movie star from a World War II movie in that picture. In fact I still think so.

He was a serious man but was kind to a little boy who asked questions about those days in France. I remember Mister Roger would look off in the distance sometimes when he talked to me and say to no one in particular.

“I hope it was worth it, I hope it was worth the price we paid.”

Sometimes he would add….

“I pray people will still remember what happened when we are all gone.”

I knew other men just like them too.

Mr. Devin Johnson was in the Navy in World War II and he survived numerous kamikaze attacks to his ship during the later stages of the war. He came home, married and raised a family. I remember he had a naked woman tattooed on his arm and when I asked him, he would laugh, roll up his sleeve, flex his bicep and make “her” dance for me.

Mr. Pete Carpenter survived the Bataan Death March and was a prisoner of the Japanese until the end of the war. Nobody talked about his drinking in town and nobody ever called him a drunk. Mister Pete always held a job, provided for his family and was kind and patient with me when I asked him questions about the war.

They are leaving us now, these men who changed the world. …

You might even hear on this anniversary about the 10,000 American casualties that day as well as the casualties our Allies suffered or of those that parachuted into France on those days when the free world hung in the balance.

I will tell you something about those casualties you might not know.

They aren’t “just a number” and the story of their lives and their deaths doesn’t end there on those beaches, the hedgerows and the chateaus they fought so hard for in those days.

I met a man several years ago…

His name is Bill Bradford and he lived in Florence Alabama.

Bill was born on the 6th of June in 1944, on the same day his father was killed by a German bullet while exiting a landing craft on Omaha Beach in Normandy France.

Bill never knew his father.

His mother remarried a few years later and while Bill was still a toddler his step-father adopted him and changed his name. Although his mother and father were childhood sweethearts before they married in 1942, she was never able to speak of the pain in her heart of the death of her husband and the father of her only child.

Bill never knew who is real father was until his mother passed away many years later.

By then Bill had a degenerative eye condition that he was born with that caused him to be almost completely blind in both eyes. But Bill was still able to hold the picture close to his face and see the lone black and white picture of his father in his Army uniform that his mother had kept hidden away until her death.

Bill would tell me…..

“I could see myself in my father, that I looked like him at that age. My eyesight is gone now, but I have that picture of my Daddy forever in my mind now.”

Bill didn’t know where his father was buried, and I helped him locate the cemetery.

Sometime later, I took Bill and his service dog “Parker” to the cemetery to visit his Father’s grave. Although Bill couldn’t see the bronze marker over his Father’s grave, I held his hand as he knelt down in the grass and he ran his fingers over the bronze marker over his Father’s grave.

The raised lettering weathered by the years said….

“Private United States Army….”

“Born August 13, 1923, Died Omaha Beach, Normandy France June 6, 1944”

“A Beloved Husband and Father”

I petted and loved on “Parker” as Bill wept on the grass that day, grieving for a Father he never knew.

So as you watch those old newsreels this week and watch the number’s displayed on your television screens of casualties of that fateful moment in World History, don’t ever think for a moment that the story ends on a distant battlefield with a life cut short.

There is always more to the story and the casualties don’t ever end on the battlefield.

I think that’s an important point worth remembering.

I think it’s important to remember the haunting words of Captain Roger I mentioned earlier too.

“I pray people will still remember what happened when we are all gone.”

I remember Captain, I will always remember.

RTR
MEB