Honoring D-Day’s heroes

Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy that launched the Allies on their path to victory in World War II.

It is one of those days most Americans know less about than they think.

Most of us have seen a movie or two; read a couple of paragraphs in high school history classes … maybe, if we are fortunate, had an opportunity to talk with a relative who was there. But that day on which 160,000 members of the Greatest Generation really did start saving the world, has become romanticized in a way that belittles its true importance.

And it still holds many of its secrets. (Remember, this was a surprise … ish … attack on Nazi-held territory).

Heck, there is still debate over what the D in D-Day stands for. Is it just alliteration? Does it stand for “disembarkation day,” “debarkation day,” “the day of decision,” or “the departed date?”

More than 9,000 Allied troops didn’t make it past the beach — either killed or wounded. And actually there was more than just the one beach. There was Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. History had never recorded a larger invasion from sea.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr., a brigadier general in the Army, led troops at Utah Beach and received the Medal of Honor for it.

So did three men with less-well-known last names: Pvt. Carlton W. Barrett, First Lt. Jimmie W. Monteith Jr. and Technician Fifth Grade John J. Pinder Jr. You have to wonder how the military powers that be plucked out four men who had performed “above and beyond the call of duty” at Normandy, but they represent what was happening in the bigger picture, especially given the degree of confusion, miscommunication and mistake-making that occurred in the early parts of the invasion.

They and the rest of the Allied troops did what brave, determined men who understand what is at stake do: They figured it out and got the job done.

We owe them our thanks, even as their numbers dwindle by the day. Our chance to find out what really happened that day is disappearing. It is difficult to know how many who were at Normandy are still with us, but of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, approximately 500,000 are left. Those who stormed the beaches on D-Day are in their 90s.

These are men and women made of tougher stuff than you and I, however. Some of them are still fighting. Some returned to France last week to honor their fallen comrades and make peace with themselves by not just telling their stories, but passing along some heard-earned wisdom to younger generations of heroes.

It took 93-year-old Jerry Deitch, of Nevada, most of his life to return to Normandy, to be able to speak about his experiences, and even to begin writing them down. He told the Associated Press he is grateful now that people listen to his stories. (Oh, sir, if you only knew how grateful some of us are that you are willing to tell them).

“I feel better when I speak about it,” Deitch said. But then he offered an important message. “If you have demons, face them.”

He and 160,000 others faced a real demon 75 years ago. They beat him, the millions of people who lost their minds and became his devotees, and the two other nations that clung to his ideals and his coattails.

Yes, it’s been three-quarters of a century. Don’t forget what the veterans we honored last week fought for … and what they fought against.

If it’s all still a mystery to you, learn about it. Find out what the Greatest Generation saved us from, all those years ago.

Do them that honor, at the least.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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