Seventy-five years ago today, the combined Allied forces kicked off Operation Overlord. It involved the largest naval force ever assembled, with more than 24,000 soldiers coming ashore on five key beaches across Normandy.
More than 10,000 Allied solders were wounded, 4,414 of them killed. German casualties were estimated at somewhere between 4,000 and 9,000 men. If you’ve never seen or heard anything about the hellish situation both sides endured, do yourself a favor and rent Saving Private Ryan. Survivors of D-Day say the first 20 minutes or so of that movie are the closest anyone has ever come to capturing the ferocity, fear and fortitude of the soldiers at times literally clawing their way off the beach.
This is the view more than 24,000 Allied soldiers had as they stepped off their landing ships into the Norman surf. More than 4,4000 hundred of them died on those beaches. Archival photo with permission.
Today, there are few survivors of D-Day, and they gathered together this week in Europe to celebrate “their” special anniversary. Both President Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May took part in those ceremonies this week. It was encouraging to see today’s leaders recognizing those brave men who were the tip of the spear that eventually ended the aspirations of the Nazis.
I consider myself fortunate enough to have been mentored in the early years of my life by men who survived World War Two- and the Korean Conflict. They were more than capable of teaching almost any skill from putting a razor’s edge on a pocket knife to building shelters from almost anything. They could move through the woods without making a sound, and were crack shots- although they were always careful to caution me about gun safety. It was years before I understood what they meant when they said anyone could shoot anything with their gun, but learning to live with the memory of that shot would be harder.
To them, all life was precious, your word was your bond, and you never, ever turned your back on a friend, your family, or forgot a promise. They used things until they couldn’t be repaired- then used the parts for something else. They are the people who made lawn furniture from old tractor seats and saw them as practical, not primitive. My most cherished knives are my Dad/Grandfather’s K-Bar and the “butcher knife” my grandfather made for me from a leaf spring. Both are razor sharp, and purpose-build.
There’s a reason for the reminiscing - and it’s not just to commemorate D-Day. It’s special, and we should celebrate the day- and every surviving World War II veteran.
But there’s more here as well. Everyone my age or older who remembers these quite heroes should purpose ourselves to take one more lesson from them and pass the collective knowledge we have to the next generation.
If you’re a grandparent, you know the joy of teaching grandkids and their friends about hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking. If you’re not, you probably know someone in your circle who has kids, but have no parents -either by choice or by circumstance- to model the lifestyle for their kids.
As them - and their kids- to join you for an outing. Start with something small- and age-appropriate for the kids. Don’t take them camping, invite them to walk around in the woods looking for something. And don’t be discouraged -- not everyone’s going to take to the outdoors after a single experience. Remember, you’re in it for the long haul.
The goal is to become a window into a world that looks simpler, but is infinitely more complex than the virtual worlds many of them have grown up with. They can Google “butterfly life cycle” and watch the entire process- in thirty seconds. But watching a butterfly battle to free itself from its cocoon and fly - for real- is miraculous.
You could be the window that allows a new generation to connect with the world generations before it have fought - and died- to protect.