Harsh Reality

Monday, June 6, 2016

Remembering The Culture, Bravery & Sacrifice Of A Day That Is Slipping From Our National Memory.

Pre-flight briefing of American air crews before their D-Day missions.
By the next day, many of these men had given their lives.

Today is the 72nd anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

I just wanted to share a few personal thoughts on this day we should remember.

With some of you undoubtedly growing up in the 1970s and later American public education system, I'll give you some brief history as to what that's about.

Germany and its allies had conquered Europe one nation at a time since the late 1930s. Their influence stretched from North Africa all the way into the Soviet Union. They owned all of Europe and had been relentlessly softening up Great Britain with arial bombardments that were taking their toll until the U.S. got involved. Everyone knew there had to be an invasion of the European continent, but nobody knew when, where or how it would happen. On 6 June 1944 the world learned how the allies would do it. The largest armada in human history poured across the English Channel. Thousands of aircraft, thousands of sea-going vessels and hundreds of thousands of men. But German troops were well-equipped, well-trained and were dug in, expecting an invasion. The fight was chaotic and costly in terms of lives and equipment. But it was a fight worth having and everything was given by a lot of soldiers, sailors and pilots. Some gave their lives. Families gave their sons, husbands, fathers and brothers. It was the 1st day that America, Great Britain, Canada and our allies were on the attack.

The cost was so high and the day such a turning point in such a monumental conflict that it was remembered every year by Americans everywhere after the war and commemorated in some way or other. Maybe just by reading a blurb above the headline of the day's newspaper. Maybe just watching a news item about it on the evening news. Or maybe by lifting a pint at the local watering hole to toast the men who fought that day, living and dead.

I've noticed over the years that the remembrances of the day have faded away from our collective American conscience. Same thing with remembrance of December 7th and the beginning of the war for Americans at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. My grandfather was in the European theater. Patton's 3rd Army. 6th Armored Division, 16th Tank Battalion. The "Super Sixers" crossed the channel and joined the fight weeks after the foothold had been secured at Normandy, but famously fought like tigers at the Battle of the Bulge during the next horrifying winter at Bastogne. My grandparents never let a D-Day anniversary go by without talking about where they were that day. What they saw. How they found out. The confusion, fear and chaos. But they were in it together with their neighbors, extended family and friends. My grandma had no idea if her young husband was alive or dead or part of the invasion or missing or captured or going across later. My grampa had no idea if his brothers or friends were alive or dead or missing or captured.
My grampa SSG Norris Harshey is kneeling front left.
Photo taken by another soldier in his unit
somewhere in Europe.

It's easy to look backwards and relax, knowing that it turned out okay. America's great sacrifice was a success, the war was eventually won, my grampa came home and started a family and lived an All-American life in the heartland with my grandma. And eventually took in a punk 15 year old named Sean Harshey to live in their home. But, on 6 June 1944, nobody knew how it would turn out. But they pushed on, anyway. They paid the price.

The scale of the invasion of Europe 72 years ago today was something that could probably never be duplicated. There's no national consensus on anything anymore. There's no "good" or "bad".

Nobody can agree on "right" or "wrong". Criminals are victims, evil is good, good things are "oppressive". Everything is relative. Even the simplest things have become gigantic national issues. The effect is that we can no longer accomplish big tasks that need to be done. Our ancestors may have been the last generation to be mostly unified in ideals and purpose and patriotism. I'm thankful for that.

My daughter's history class watched Saving Private Ryan this semester as part of their 20th century studies. I'm impressed at how much she learned about the causes of WW2 and the resulting geographic divisions of the Cold War. I'm very thankful to her teacher and her high school for impressing on the students the heavy sacrifices made for them by people they don't even know. On D-Day, nobody knew if these terrible sacrifices would accomplish the task. But they gave it their all. They did their duty. And won. They went through a terrible war to secure peace. For us.

My grampa being silly with my grandma
before he shipped off overseas. They were married almost
50 years before he passed away in 1991. Photo taken
in Louisiana, 1942.
When I was a kid, the World War Two generation seemed larger than life to me. The sacrifices, the achievements, they were all bigger than what I could imagine. The men that did all that - that liberated a continent, that liberated the entire Pacific Ocean - they were Super Men to me. And when I would see members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars wearing their side caps I always revered them as giants. Even as they got older and more frail and fewer in number.

Shortly after returning from Iraq in 2007 I was invited to join my local VFW post. It seemed very strange that I would be able to do so. I never felt worthy. I thought it my duty, though, as these organizations are becoming smaller in number and membership as a natural result of a smaller and smaller number of the American population having military service.

So, for the past nine years I've been a proud member of both the American Legion and the VFW. I served a brief stint as an officer at my VFW post and I've made a lot of friends. This past week an officer of my post (a Vietnam veteran) presented me with my own VFW side cap. I am honored and thrilled to have it. But I have mixed emotions about wearing it. I am very, very proud of my service and my comrades at my VFW post, but I honestly don't feel worthy to wear the same hat that those Super Men who liberated Europe came back home to wear at their local posts. I hope you will believe me when I say that this is not about me. I only share this anecdote about my own experience this week as an example of how much we owe to the generations before us who sacrificed so much. My year in the desert with email, occasional phone calls home and the ability to watch NFL games and the Indy 500 live on American Forces Network TV cannot possibly compare to the 2-1/2 years my grampa spent fighting his way across Europe. So the pride I felt in wearing that cap was more than off-set by the humility of the sacrifices and cost of the men who wore it before me.

They paid for something that we enjoy. They sacrificed for us. And there is nothing we can do to repay them. All we can do is be thankful and try to follow their example and be faithful in our duty for future generations.

Very honored to wear this cap.
CPT Sean Harshey in a Blackhawk helicopter somewhere
over Iraq. 24 September 2006

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