On June 6, 1944, as the dawn broke on Normandy beaches, troops from America, Britain, Canada and France executed a dangerous plan to liberate France from Nazi tyranny. The operation was to storm the five Normandy beaches–arriving by ship and by air, overtaking the German troops. There were 156,000 paratroopers under General Dwight D. Eisenhower; and as their commander said, “The eyes of the world are upon you.”
The sky filled with men and parachutes. Many died under enemy fire on the way down. And among the paratroopers who didn’t die–who successfully landed behind enemy lines–was a young Roy Donald Davis. My dad.
Growing up with a father who’d served in the 101st Airborne, I tended to take for granted that he was alive, whereas so many of his friends had been killed, dropping from the skies at the mercy of German sharpshooters below.
I saw the photos: Dad, fresh-faced and looking like a high school kid, just barely out of his teens, posing with a family who’d befriended the Allied soldiers in France; with a dog he’d gotten to know in Belgium; riding in a convoy heading toward Rome….I heard the stories: Sometimes he’d laugh about a bar room song the guys would sing, until my mother scolded him. “Bud, cut that out!” she’d say; and he would.
Sometimes, I climbed the steps to the attic to survey Dad’s uniform and his medals and insignia. And his parachute—soft white silk, it was the perfect tent for backyard campouts, the perfect tablecloth for tea parties or, unfortunately, the perfect drop cloth for my parents’ painting projects. The delicate fabric eventually shredded under sandals and sand; and it’s hard to imagine, but our parents threw it out without a backward glance.
That was 70 years ago today.
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In France, 19 heads of state and government leaders participated in a ceremony commemorating the Normandy landings. French president Francois Hollande paid tribute to “all veterans” of this giant military operation to “all victims” of Nazi occupation.
The 101st Airborne, and the 82nd Airborne, and other guys from what’s been called the “Greatest Generation” are leaving us–at a rate of 400 per day. If you know one, please thank him for me.