I do not hail from a long line of warriors. We are cooks and healers, not fighters.
The above picture is of my Pa-Paw, taken in England, on the eve of his shipping out for the shores of France. He was there on that D-Day, not shooting up the Germans so much as tending to the wounded allied soldiers. He was a medic. That didn’t stop him from nearly dying in the fighting. On the first day Allied soldiers crossed from Belgium into Germany, Pa-Paw was nearly blown up. His prognosis was grim, and he was toe-tagged on the return ship from Europe, because doctors expected him to die on the journey home. He made it, and after months of rehabilitation at Ashford General Hospital (now the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia), he was discharged and sent back to Mississippi with a bus ticket.
My Grampy served in the army and was there at D-Day as well. His role in the army was that of a cook. Although he escaped significant injury on the battlefield, while in Europe, he came down with severe appendicitis, and had to have his appendix removed without anesthesia in a field hospital in France.
Both of my grandfathers are long gone from this life. Sadly, Grampy passed when I was too young to have heard his accounts of World War II, but I have a feeling he would have addressed it with the same reverence and tears that Pa-Paw did. Their sacrifices, I still cannot fathom, but I have been thinking about them a lot today on the 70th anniversary of D-Day and thinking about how they so willingly made the choice to risk their lives to save the freedom of others. I love them for that.
I cannot read this letter that Pa-Paw wrote to his mother while he was in England, holding up with the rest of the allies in advance of the invasion, and not still cry. He was a scared eighteen year old boy, but only concerned about the welfare of his family. Pa-Paw had so many ups and downs after his injury and based on the terrible things he saw in the war, but this letter reminds me of who my Pa-Paw was in a way that nothing else could.