My Personal Tribute to WW2 Heroes
My apologies for not updating the blogs, lately.
It is safe to say that I probably won't get near the computer until the week is over because PBS is broadcasting an incredible documentary from Ken Burns about WW2, called The War, every night this week, and I just can't get away from the TV. Yes, I could tape it, but I won't.
I've heard a lot about WW2 when I was a kid, growing up in France, and not just in the media or history books.
For example, at home, if we complained about not having the latest gadget the kid down the block might have brought to school for show and tell, or not liking what was on our plate for dinner, my mother would invariably respond: "During the War, we didn't have anything at all!"
In fact, we heard that sentence so much, at home, that any time my mother started saying "During the War ..." we looked at each other and our eyes would start rolling up. Yet, we *were* incredibly privileged for growing up in peace time.
I believe it was my mother's idea that we should visit Omaha Beach, and we did that apparently when I was very young. My brother was not with us yet, so I couldn't have been not much older than 7 years old, at most.
Usually, going to the beach was a happy event, and as soon as I knew we were out of the immediate surroundings of Paris, I'd start asking my parents from the back of the car - every half an hour at first, and then, as we got closer and we could practically smell the sea salt, every 5 minutes - if we were there, yet.
That trip was a little different. When we got to Omaha Beach, there was nothing fun to do or and nothing much see, except a few people walking around fully clothed with their "serious faces" on and the ruins of a couple of German pill boxes, if memory serves.
I remember not understanding why we had to stay there for what appeared to be an eternity, getting impatient, and asking if we could leave already. My mother just replied that we were there "to pay respect" and ordered us to be quiet. Something about the tone of her voice made me not want to argue too much, that time, even though I didn't quite understand what she meant or why that piece of land concerned us so much.
We eventually left Omaha Beach, drove to the next one just like it but a little smaller (Utah Beach, I think?) but it wasn't until we were driving back that I began to understand ... for we could see field, after field, after field... spotless, impeccably manicured green fields, filled with so many identical white crosses planted on the ground, lined up like little soldiers... So many young lives lost.
In the back of the car, everything was quiet for a while, while we drove past these fields.
Many people my parents' generation and older still remembered WW2 vividly when I was growing up in France. They did not necessarily talk about it and we didn't dare ask them. But it was not that long ago, and they remembered the War like it happened yesterday. There were many stories, but most of all, you could tell the emotions were still running very strong, right under the surface, for many.
If you go to France even nowadays, you will see countless memorials and tributes to the "fallen ones" practically everywhere you go, and if you look carefully, you will notice they left the original bullet holes scarring the walls of many buildings, especially in the countryside outside Paris.
After I came to the U.S., I very surprised to notice how WW2 seems almost romanticized, here, and there seems to be a huge nostalgia concerning this period of time. You have mythical Rosie the Riveter still selling a lot of memorabilia after all these years, all the glamorous movies with handsome actors and actresses, Big Band music, fashionable women's clothes ... and of course, the booming defense economy and its lasting positive impact on the US economy as a whole ... maybe that's why people look back on that era positively, I don't know. Once, an older lady even told me how "it was such a great time to live in." Hard to believe, uh?
By contrast, the series playing on PBS right now shows a more realistic picture of that period of time. It is WW2 narrated from the US point of view, of course, and it addresses different issues (such as the Japanese internment camps and segregation within the US Army) than those Europeans are more familiar with.
From the footage, you will get this if you don't know it already, and I don't know how else to say it: War is nasty shit, it just is. There is nothing glamorous, nothing positive about it, and no, it won't do for us what WW2 did for the US economy at the time. Quite the opposite, in fact, but that's not what I wanted to talk about right now.
After seeing some of these images, we really get why people who go through stuff like that can never forget it as long as they live! We probably still won't quite know how they *feel* (how could we possibly ever?) but we begin to understand what they went through a little bit better.
And we also get how much we owe these guys. We do owe them.
You know, I've met WW2 vets several times over the years, here in the US, and a couple of them have told me they went through Omaha Beach. I don't know why, but ever since I became an adult, whenever someone mentions Omaha Beach, I just want to cry.
I remember that trip, the tone in my mother's voice, but most of all, I remember the numerous, numerous crosses all over these perfect green fields. And, yes, all these years later, I feel not only a great sadness but also an immense gratitude towards all these servicemen and all the people who had to go through these hard times.
Tonight they're showing D-Day.
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Check out The War
(insert links here)