Watching D Day to Victory, living my stepdad’s war history. I won’t be all day at it, but am watching the front end of the series, The Battle for Caen. Just after this siege he was felled in a poppy field and done with the war.
Except for his wounds. Those would keep the war alive in his head and his body for the rest of his life.
As a child I sat in his lap and traced the long and deep red wounds that marred his body. By the summer of 1946 he was nearly two years out from his wounding. I knew about the war from the air raids and the black shades pulled down in the night, the sirens winding and the fearful crying in a dormitory filled with terrified little girls. We thought, not understanding, that the war might be just down the street.
“Do they hurt, Daddy? Do you cry?” “Not anymore. They don’t hurt now, except when it rains.” We’d sit together in the hot August sun, having picked the day’s cache of fat red tomatoes from the Victory garden. He held the salt shaker over my tomato. Warm from the sun, its delicious juices ran down my chin. Only now getting to know this man who would grow into my father, I hung on to every word he uttered. He’d answer anything I asked, if only I knew the questions, but I didn’t know much to ask. I couldn’t know until I was grown that war was too painful to revisit, and him so shy with children.
Today I watch old men weep as they tell this awful story, their recall painful and vivid. The horror they saw and survived lives vividly in their memory and likely still, in their nightmares. They marvel at their survival. Their days of war are as real as if they happened yesterday.
Our debt to them is enormous. Impossible to repay. This is the war determined to end all conflagration forever. But we know history is doomed to repeat itself when we forget the lesson. We know we have the ability to fully wreck the planet. It beckons today in our frustration to block the need for greed and power, with potential millions paying the price for the few. A dwindling population alone truly knows the horror of war as they lived it. For the rest of us it’s but a story. But we are vulnerable because we are soft.
We know there is something very dangerous out in the hidden distance. Pretty words and powerful motivation from those who would wield that power are almost hypnotic while terrifying.
Not one of those hopefuls lived WW2. They know those lessons only second hand. Soon there will be no one left to tell us from first hand. We have this film, this record. It is powerful documentation from the mouths of noble old men recorded in great detail so that we don’t forget.
D Day to Victory.