I am by no means a spring chicken, but even I wasn’t around when D-Day happened 75 years ago.
For me, personally, June 6 did have significance, but it wasn’t because of D-Day.
My dad died on June 6. I was 15-years old. I remember the purple scent of lilacs that filled the air that day and I remember the devastating sense of loss I felt.
And for years after that fateful day, for me June 6 wasn’t about D-Day. It was about the day I became an orphan.
Even after all these years, I wake up on the morning of June 6 when the heady sent of lilacs fills the air and I remember. “This is the day that my dad died.”
And, sometimes when the air is calm and still and I find, in my day, a bit of time to reflect, to remember and to pay tribute, I take a bouquet of lilacs out to his grave and lay them there, knowing full well, it’s only a matter of time before the fragrant purple blossoms wilt and die.
But, this year, in particular, as it marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I have thought of June 6 on a much larger scale than my own personal tragedy.
This year I was fortunate enough to interview a veteran who had lived through D-Day. And while he was not among the soldiers that actually stormed the beaches on that long ago historical day, he was there only a few weeks later and he was there during the Battle of Normandy.
He is 95 now, at an age when his memory, like the fragile Alberta rose pedals, and the lilacs that bloom profusely, should be slowly fading.
But it isn’t.
It’s sharp and clear.
And as we chatted, or seriously, he chatted, I wrote and listened. Sometimes I forgot to write and simply listened.
And I felt like I was there.
When he closed his eyes and visualized the ships, thousands of them, all set out for Normandy, I felt like I saw them, too.
And when he talked about a mass confusion on the beach as the young soldiers milled about needing some order and some direction, I felt like I was among them.
He said the shelling was continuous. He said he was afraid. He said life was cheap and one day you were alive and one day could be dead.
It was war, he said.
As I read about D-Day and the fact surrounding it, the story becomes more real to me. And I think it must have been such a turbulent time in which to be alive. A time when young mothers would suffer the agonizing and wrenching loss of watching their sons leave for battle and not know if they would ever see them again.
I don’t want to think about how horrible that must have been.
And I think about those young men who stormed those beaches of Normandy young men by the thousands who hadn’t even begun to live yet.
And I think about the fear, the absolute, mind boggling paralyzing fear that would have gripped them as they heard the staccato sound of gun fire and watched comrades fall.
And I realize I don’t really want to think about that either.
Since D-Day in 1944 and the remainder of the Second World War that ensued, life has continued. Generations have passed on and new babies have been born.
But this year, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, it truly is a time to pause, take a deep breath and reflect on our history and the great sacrifices given, the horror, the tragedy and the war.
And the historical day that marked the beginning of the end.