D-Day, plus 73

Although World War II was truly global long before America got into it, the invasion of Normandy, or D-Day, stands out for most Americans. Senior Correspondent ...

Although World War II was truly global (and started well before the U.S. got into it), two dates and places represent “the war” for many Americans: Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and June 6, 1944, the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Many other places in Southeast Asia were attacked on December 7. And Americans (Brits, Canadians and others) had long been fighting in Sicily and Italy before the “invasion” of Europe in France.

My father, who I barely knew, was in the South Pacific in New Guinea (Army Air Corps) during the war. Several uncles on both sides were in service, mostly in the South Pacific. My best friend at the D.C. rooming house where my mother, an Army employee, was one of three sons of a Flying Tiger pilot killed in action in China. WW2 was all around us.

I was in Normandy a decade ago with one of my sons and his wife. Although many Americans are familiar with Omaha and Utah beaches, thanks to the movies, we were not alone. Not by a long shot. A group of British paratroopers, then in their 80s and 90s, were having a reunion (maybe the last one?) on one of the three beaches — Gold, Juno, Sword — they were assigned.

A friend of my mother’s friends, Phil from Shamokin, Pennsylvania, and his brother — both coal miners — were Army medics. They landed on D-Day-plus-one. They were “late,” but for a good, nearly fatal, reason. The ship transporting them was sunk. They were picked up by a Canadian corvette, rescued only to later be dropped on Omaha beach.

Years later (I hadn’t seen Phil for decades), I found a great map of the D-Day beaches at Normandy. I looked Phil up (they still had telephone books then) and sent it to him with note, which said, “Thank you.” A few days later, I got a call from his wife. She said I had sent the map to Phil’s son. He passed it on to his dad, who was very ill. Wanted to talk to me, but couldn’t. Wanted to say thanks. Him thanking me, right! She said he cried when he read the note. This tough guy, who had been through the mill numerous times, crying over a note. Go figure.

I went to Normandy 10 years ago with my son and his wife. When I was there, decades later, most of the tourists at our part of the beach were Americans. Most well-behaved (many clearly either vets or family members) but a few were too loud. Or complaining. The stereotypical Ugly Americans.

I met a French woman who worked as a guide. She said her family lived not far away and were at their farmhouse on D-Day. American airborne troops landed all around them. As we were talking, a batch of very loud, obviously under the influence, group of Americans — all way too young to have been there in 1944 — came weaving by. Thinking to apologize for Ugly Americans everywhere, I said something like, “I guess you get enough Americans sometimes”, or words to that effect.

She looked at me for a second and then at the beach where so many thousands died or were maimed for life.

“Not here,” she said.

I got it.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Jory Heckman

Fresh pistachios, if stacked under pressure, can burst into flames and cause a cargo fire. The nuts are classified as a flammable solid liable to spontaneous combustion under the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code.

Source: Transportation Information Service

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