Throughout my life, I’ve had the rare opportunity to have living history at my fingertips. My grandfather (whom I’ve always called Tops) is a veteran of World War II, and I’ve been able to ask him questions about the war and get his firsthand memories as my answers. As a Purple Heart recipient and former Prisoner of War, you can imagine that he has some pretty moving stories about his experiences in Europe.
Since today marks the 68th anniversary of D-Day, I decided to ask Tops about his memories of the day. He said that he was already far from home, the small east Texas town of Sulphur Springs. He was assigned to the Army’s 3rd Division and was in Washington, D.C., waiting to make the trip overseas with his Division. Not knowing where exactly the ship was headed, his mind was full of questions and naturally, worries. He remembers hearing about the events of D-Day while he was in D.C. and feeling sorrow for so many who lost their lives.
According to D-Day.org, “On June 6, 1944,150,000 Allied troops’ (from 12 allied countries) ‘landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft supported the invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in France. The D-Day cost was high with more than 9,000 Allied soldiers killed or wounded as the march across Europe to defeat Hitler began.”
Tops says that he didn’t personally know anyone who lost their life on D-Day, but he, of course, felt the pain of losing friends throughout the war. Being from a small town himself, he had a particularly soft place in his heart for the fallen soldiers in Bedford, Virginia. According to Tops, Bedford was a town of only about 3,200 people and they lost 19 soldiers on D-Day (the biggest loss per capita of any town on that day). It is for that reason that Bedford is the home of the National D-Day Memorial.
Nearly 70 years later, it’s hard to find many people who can share their personal memories about D-Day or even World War II, but it’s important for us to keep the memories alive of fallen soldier throughout our country’s history, as well as find any opportunity to honour those both past and present for their service to our country.