Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there.
My Mom died in 1999, so I haven't had much association with this holiday for awhile. She met my Dad at a USO dance in 1943, during the depths of World War II.
My Mom made airplanes in California during the war. She was a hero.
My Dad was a hero too, who fought at Peleliu and Okinawa. You all know those two horrific Pacific battles, right? At Peleliu, my Dad was manning the line with 45 rounds for his carbine as a 19-year-old while his 1st Marine Division suffered 33% casualties. You all stand in line at Starbucks to special order your $4.00 lattes to be "extra hot;" the Marines stood in line at Peleliu to fill up their canteens with water from fuel drums that was oil-laced. In the 118 degree heat, they tried to drink it anyway. He died in 1986.
My Uncle was at the same battles, and others, only he was a shipboard Marine. He slept on clean sheets every night, and Japanese pilots tried to kill him every day. He's a hero.
Because these men are leaving us at such a prodigious rate, I only know one other World War II veteran currently. I only spoke with him once, and I treasure the memory of our conversation.
A soft spoken, droll man, he grew up in New York City, just like me. Although my friend was self deprecating about his World War II experience, it transformed his life. He only told me about it because I asked him directly.
At 18, he was mustered into the Army, given basic training and sent across the Atlantic to fight the Nazis. He was crossing the ocean enroute to a replacement depot in England when the Allies stormed Hitler's Fortress Europa on June 6, 1944. You all knew that date, right? D-Day was the greatest undertaking by the greatest generation.
One small town in Virginia with a population of 3,200 had half of its contingent of 38 National Guardsmen killed on that day at Omaha Beach. Go see their legacy at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford someday. Somehow, I don't think that any of you ever will. (Left: Framed by the mountains of Virginia, a Bedford Boy breaches the Atlantic Wall.)
Although my friend was a thousand miles away from Normandy, he got a D-Day Service Medal because he was at sea on that day. He laughed about this because that's just the way the Army is. He paid his dues later, serving with a tank destroyer unit in Patton's Third Army hunting Tigers. Ever hear of the Battle of the Bulge? He was there. A buddy of his was killed there, standing right next to him. It is his family lore that my friend wound up with the Luger of the German who did that.
He didn't tell me about that part though. Rather, he alerted me not to be surprised if I ever went to Europe and noticed that a lot of French girls around my age looked exactly like him. He loved that joke. He also told me about his purple heart, earned on the day when the Nazis surrendered in 1945. He happened to roll his jeep driving down the road and wound up in the hospital. He laughed that if the accident had happened one day later, no purple heart.
He's a hero. I hope you get well, my friend.