My father was in the U.S. Army as his father before him. My grandfather took a slug in back of the thigh at the Battle of the Bulge, shortly after meeting my grandmother, a fiery Welsh redhead with a rather lovely voice. I always imagined him seeing her up on stage at a dance, maybe at the USO, singing with her band…making eyes at her between sets.
My brother and I surprised my dad with a trip to Normandy for his 60th birthday eight years ago. Dad’s a bit of a WWII history buff and for good reason–He and his eight siblings are products of WWII. Had WWII not happened, it is very possible that my grandmother would have married William instead of John, the American G.I. who would bring her from Kent to America and inject an astonishing amount of fertility into my paternal bloodline. She also gifted us Yanks thick, wavy hair….something I will be forever grateful for since I got little else in regard to feminine traits. Before the redhead, everyone had bad hair.
I’ve written about how Band of Brothers really forced me to internalize what my freedom cost those who came before me. I cried from the first sequence on. But the emotions I felt watching that true story portrayed by actors paled in comparison to viewing genuine footage of real soldiers in the first landing craft leaving England with smiles on their faces, waving and saying "Hi Mom!" to the cameras. It was heartbreaking to see them cutting up and carrying on knowing that hours later they would be the blood in the water that stormy June 6th morning.
I walked Omaha Beach following a similar storm, a humdinger that dislodged waterbound artifacts from that Allied invasion seventy years prior. There was almost too much too debris to sift through and driftwood in soft gray hues akin to gull wingtips, sculpted in a mangled mess of salty petrified tree bones.
While kicking around the piles of shells and sea glass, I spied a large something peeking out of knotted seaweed–A monkey wrench covered in iron oxide and barnacles. At that moment, I no longer cared that my dad had found an unfired bullet just minutes before and gave it to my little brother (then, 32). My brother was instantly envious of my beautiful wrench…he even suggested we trade. Ha! Never!
The icing on the cake was the French museum dedicated to that landing and the employee there who insisted we take our found treasures back to the States. It seems that laid-back French attitudes do come in handy at times. She said they have buckets full of artifacts in storage and we should keep the ones we found…Go figure. Back home, it’s unlawful to even take a twig off a path in Yosemite and keep it for a souvenir…and I’m certain there is no twig shortage in that park.
The photo above is of my beloved Omaha Beach wrench next to a period Life magazine commemorating that same event. Inside, the articles are tidy and well written by historians including John Keegan.
How fortunate that generation was to have writers/journalists like Keegan, who was actually qualified to discuss the history of warfare and military events of that era despite his strong pacifist stance–He was forthcoming about having never served in the military and never claimed to personally understand what war felt like, unlike some.
I am blessed to have an Omaha Beach monkey wrench, a reminder of what freedom once meant to Americans. But I wonder if the serviceman who may have died using that wrench will continue to matter to our young ones and those who have become complacent to corruption and heavy handed government.
I’m sitting here stewing over tonight’s newly solidified Democratic presidential candidate because if she is allowed to appoint the next generation of Supreme Court Justices, then that rusty old monkey wrench may well become my most ferocious first line of self defense. And our constitution will be further dismembered by yet another liberal lawyer president.
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