On Monday June 6th, yesterday as of press time, most of you went about your business as usual.
Well, business as usual, after combat jumps and amphibious landings, 78 years ago for the 82nd Airborne and 1st Infantry Division was the assault by air and sea of Hitler’s Festung Europa in France. Normandy. D-Day.
Some of you commemorated it on social media. Others of a more historical bent perhaps told a child or grandchild of the anniversary. But most of you gave it nary a thought. I didn’t have that luxury for two reasons. I spent the early part of my youth in Fayetteville, NC, home of the 82nd at Ft. Bragg and I served in the 1st Infantry.
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I realize I’m not the only person who grew up an Army brat or served. For me, as my Dad was a WWII naval veteran working for the Army at Bragg, the time spent there was special because it was the mid 1960s and many of our family friends were WWII vets. Some were D-Day vets and told me stories about jumping into Normandy in the middle of the night. They and others were also bound for Vietnam. My Dad went to funerals on a regular basis, men, amongst them D-Day participants, who did not come back from Vietnam.
I remember cookouts in our backyard where I’d just listen as they related their exploits. It was never anything sappy or maudlin. A lot of funny stories about one guy’s eccentricities or another guy’s mishaps. And they resented being called heroes. They understood, as many after them, that if you so lower the bar that everybody who serves is a hero then no one is a hero because heroism is based on extraordinary actions. My godfather, CSM Jesse Moss of the 82nd’s 4th Psyops, exemplified the breed.
When I got to the 1st Infantry in March of 1983 those young Vietnam era privates were senior NCOs and the lieutenants were colonels. In talking to some of them, I was a PFC, their words and attitudes towards their service in Vietnam bore a striking resemblance to what I heard back at Bragg.
I guess that’s no surprise as I found out, through other veterans and my own service, that Sir John Keegan was right. Keegan was the foremost British military historian of his day. He died in 2012. In The Face of Battle Keegan wrote that men serve and fight not for a flag, or a constitution, or a country. Those are byproducts. They serve and fight for each other.
We who served know that. The stories at Bragg and 1st Infantry were not about glory or ideology, but about friends and comrades. That’s why remembering D-Day was important yesterday and still is today. The anniversary recalls those who made it through in the company of their brothers and recalls those who didn’t and forever remain in service.