89 Days of Greatness: Day #14

June 6, 2014

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Day #14 of 89 Days of Greatness.  Today marks a deviation from the norm on our 89 Days of Greatness summer series because today is a day that brought about a sea change in world history 70 years ago, and that deserves our attention.

Had Hitler and the other evil architects of the Axis Powers had their way, America likely would not exist any longer as we know it, which means I likely wouldn’t be doing everything every day that I get to do; neither would you. We owe the WWII vets and their families as well as all the allied forces from WWII, whether they served in the Atlantic or the Pacific, a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay.

With that in mind, on this, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I affirm what I know, which is that …

 

Today, I had the freedom to pick up the littles from their sleepover at their aunt and uncles … thanks to the heroes of World War II.

Today, I had the freedom to take them to Gramma & Big Daddy’s house to drop off some homemade treats … thanks to the heroes of World War II.

Today, I had the freedom to take them to a park where they’d never been before and watch as they made new friends, ran free, enjoyed the swings, rode their scooters, and generally spent time being kids … thanks to the heroes of World War II.

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Today, the kids had the freedom to go swimming, all the while playing made-up games and doing on-the-spot competitions in the water … thanks to the heroes of World War II.

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Today, the kids had the freedom to eat snacks and make silly faces into my camera because their days – compared to many other people’s days throughout the course of human history – are relatively care-free … thanks to the heroes of World War II.

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Today I have the freedom to be grateful and to reflect.

I remember being in Paris on June 6,1994 when I studied abroad one summer.  Most of the program was in southern France, but we spent the first ten days of our summer semester in Paris.

On June 7 – my birthday – all of us students and our professor went to Versailles Palace, which is a short train ride out from Paris.  After we toured the palace, we went into the extensive gardens, and it was there that I saw an American WWII veteran, dressed in his army dress uniform, complete with hat and medals, walking the grounds.  Judging by the math, he must have been early to mid-70s.  The memory of walking up to him to thank him for his service is clear enough that I can still see his face as well as that of his grown daughter in my mind’s eye.

They told me that they had been at a special ceremony in Normandy the day before on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, and the distinguished veteran had a tear in his eye and a far-off look as he told me – a total stranger – about how he felt being back in Normandy and how overpowering it was to be among the people of Normandy as they showed their unending gratitude for the allied forces, especially the Americans.

That man has been on my mind today.  So have the men represented in so many pictures and historical movies – both the accurate newsreel films and the inspiring Hollywood ones – about WWII.  I think of the leaders like Eisenhower and Patton and MacArthur and Bradley. Like our British compatriots Churchill and Montgomery. Like Jimmy Doolittle and Earl Rudder. I think of the GIs in all the branches of service.  They were husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, friends.  They had lives, histories, futures.  Some lived to see their futures played out; others didn’t.  Some had their finest day – June 6, 1944 – as their final day; some lived past that day to fight on.  Some died later in the war; some are alive still today.

All of them amaze me.  Author and historian Stephen Ambrose did this country – and the world – a wonderful service through the numerous books he authored about WWII, in large part because he made the men who fought that war – and the sacrifices the families made back home in America – come to life.  Those of us who have read his books are the better for knowing Dick Winters and Frank Joseph Perconte and Roy Cobb and Herbert Sobel.  (Band of Brothers)

And I think of all those who fought in the less-reported Pacific Theater of the war.  One of them was my great uncle, Dave Wilson.  I wrote a post about him once.  He won’t ever have a movie written about his story, and based on my father’s descriptions of Uncle Dave, he wouldn’t have wanted one.  But his story is heroic – just another of many from that exceptional era in world history – and if you have a moment to read that post from a couple of years ago, I’d be honored if you’d keep alive the memory of my great uncles Dave and Brownlee and revel with me for a moment in the quiet heroism of my great Uncle Dave.  (Click here to read that post.)  His is representative of the selflessness and sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands who fought in the name of the conviction that good always (ultimately) conquers evil and that true strength is that stepping out of self long enough to live for a cause that will outlive you.

That is not just Day #14 of 89 Days of Greatness; it is a lifetime’s worth.

Godspeed.

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If you’re new to ittybittybucket or to our 89 Days of Greatness, welcome! The site is still evolving – much like my organizational skills and hairstyle – and you’re welcome to check out all of it. (The site, that is. I doubt you’re interested in my organizational skills or my hairstyles. On most days, I’m not, either.)

To learn more about 89 Days of Greatness, click here.

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