Wednesday, June 6, 2007

D-Day, Plus 63 Years

I didn't remember until I opened the newspaper that today is the 63rd anniversary of D-Day.

I should have remembered. Yesterday I did a critique of a book review, one of a memoir written by a sergeant who jumped into France pre-D-Day and served (including the Battle of Bastogne) the entire war. He was the only member of his company not killed, wounded, or gone missing in action.

There are fewer and fewer of the old soldiers left. Time is accomplishing what Fascism could not. And when one of them tells a story like Jump Into the Valley of the Shadow: The World War II memoirs of a paratrooper in the 508th P.I.R., 82nd Airborne Division by Dwayne and Leland Burns we should treasure the chance to understand what it means -- the price paid -- for us to live free in a democracy.

I'm a history buff. I'm fascinated by ... well, by the "cusps of history," moments when, for good or ill, the course of humankind's history lay at stake. D-Day is one of those moments, and it's success owed to many (those who faced the Nazi guns) and to one -- General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the man who made the decision and saw it through even though confusion and blunders and accidents washing up at his feet would have caused a lesser man to lose heart.

We write because we are human. We write because we are compelled to tell our stories to one another.

And, as a writer, I am frustrated with myself because I have let stories like the one included in paratrooper's memoir escape. My father served in the Philippines and on Okinawa. He is dead now. My uncle served as part of an aircrew "flying the hump" from India into China. He is dead now. A neighbor stormed the beach at Tarawa to clear traps meant to snag Marine landing craft. He is dead now. Those stories are gone forever.

As writers -- no, as readers and as citizens -- we have an obligation, I think, to seek out these stories, these tales of how we became who we are. The next one I encounter -- not yet voiced, waiting within the hard-held memories of a hard-used old man -- I will record.

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