Monday, June 16, 2014

Return to Omaha Beach

It was 40 years after World War II when I met John.  I was 57; he was 68 and had been retired for 12 years.  For the next four years he spent all his time doing things to make me happy. We were married in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Downers Grove, Illinois, on the day after Christmas, 1987.  The next week we left for Albuquerque.

When I told people John had four sons, someone asked, “Did you have to raise your stepsons?”

“No,” I said, “They were all in their 40's when I married their father.” 

One day John, carrying a handful of brochures and papers, came into the living room. He said, “I thought we might take a trip to Europe.  Would you like to do that?”

Like it?  I was thrilled!

We flew to Luxemburg, picked up a rental car at the airport, and headed first to Germany and then to France.  After a week in Paris, we used a rail pass to go to Rome, Venice, and Vienna, spending a week in each city.

For John the highlight of the trip was his return to Normandy for the first time since he waded ashore on Omaha Beach on June 10, 1944.   At the cemetery we walked between the crosses, tears streaming down our cheeks as we read the names.  Each cross was inscribed with the name of a young man (really just boys), his rank, the state he came from, and the day he was killed. 

Photographs show the overwhelming number of dead (over 5,000), but walking among the crosses made us see them as individuals, young men (really boys) cut down before they could really live.  There were names familiar to me in Texas: Brown, Thompson, McDonald, and also names with strange spellings of American boys whose ancestors came from Italy, Scandinavia, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland. And from all the states, a sergeant from Iowa or Wisconsin lying next to a colonel from Oregon or California, next to a boy from Georgia or Alabama or New York or Connecticut.  All those different names and states reminded me how diverse and yet united our nation is. 

At the edge of bluff was a low wall and a sign that said, “Warming!  Do not climb down the cliff!  Danger!  Wild boars!” 

So what did John do?  He climbed over the wall and headed down the cliff, now covered with knee-high brambles.  I gasped.  Then I went to the parking lot and drove the rental car a safer way down via a road.

I found John on the beach where so many boys died as German machine guns cut them to pieces as they waded ashore on June 6.  I took a picture of John walking where little waves met the sands of the pristine beach.    John said, “This place has not changed a bit since the last time I was here in 1944.

People believe what they want to believe.  On Omaha Beach I learned that people also see what they want to see.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Omaha Beach

On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, the CBS affiliate in Dallas took half a dozen veterans pf World War II to France.  Watching the ten o’clock news, I hear these old men recount their memories of landing on Omaha Beach. It brought make back my own memories of my husband John and his stories of World War II. . 

For him it was the most exciting time in his life.  John was drafted in January 1942, right after Pearl Harbor.  After basic training, he was sent to OCS, then to Harvard Business School to train as a supply officer.  In the hallway of our little house in Albuquerque hung a photo of his “class” at Harvard.  Three rows of young lieutenants in spiffy new uniforms.  Since John was short, he was in the center of the front row. 

His unit sailed to Europe on the Mauritania, a luxury liner which had been converted to a troop transport.  They landed in Liverpool on Christmas Eve 1943.  In the darkness the troops marched up from the pier, the only sound the pounding of two thousand pairs of boots echoing on cobblestones. 

In England his company set up a “depot” near Westbury, where they assembled supplies for the invasion of France.  John enjoyed his time in England.  He made friends (John always made friends wherever he was) with two English families who lived in side-by-side bungalows on the edge of the little town. 

The company joined the armada crossing the English Channel.  John said the most amazing sight he ever saw was “the sea covered with ships.  All around us as far as I could see were ships, over a thousand of them.”

John waded ashore on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus four, June 10, “carrying my rifle above my head.”  The beach had been secured.  Since John was in a supply company, always following the troops but never in combat, he never fired the gun during the many months that followed, all the way across Europe to meet the Russians at the Elbe. 

John’s company waited on Omaha Beach for several days before a ship brought their supplies. It dumped a shipload of cartons onto the beach, a mountain of food for men who were fighting the Germans. 

Major Peters gave John the job of organizing all this stuff   To help him John was assigned a group of POW’s.  All were Poles and Czechs who had been forced to join Hitler’s Army to avoid being sent to a concentration camp.  They were happy to surrender to the first Americans they met.  Since John could speak Polish, he had no trouble talking with these prisoners.  He had the men arrange the cartons in neat stacks. A wall of canned peaches six feet high, ten cartons wide, and a quarter of a mile long,  Next came to a similar wall of beans, another of corned beef hash, etc.

As the prisoners strained to lift the cartons into place, one of them said to John, “Why did the Germans think they could win?  The Germans could NEVER have won this war.  You have too much stuff.”

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Time Out

With dialysis three times a week, I never have time to do all the things I need to do.  After Christmas I lost track of time.  First I made the sudden move from Garland to Dallas.  If you have moved, even from one zipcode to another, you know how complicated moving is – letting people know the new address, deciding what to discard (all those shoes I had not worn in ten years), ordering new furniture (finally gave away that Early American maple dresser with the broken drawer which we bought in l961), and finding new eye, chest, and foot doctors closer to the new place.

You probably had a similar experience, but this is what happened to me:.

My new apartment is in a really luxurious retirement home.  Part of the deal for coming to this luxurious retirement home was a promise to pay for movers who would do everything.  “All you have to do is watch them.”  Ashley, my “moving coordinator” and I drew up plans to indicate where all the furniture was to be placed.  The gal from the moving company made photos of my bookshelves, “so that we can place your books exactly as you have them here.”. 

David came to help me move.  Mostly he ran around looking for things I needed for the new apartment; i.e., a blue shower curtain for my guest bathroom.  He came back with an aqua shower curtain.  He failed to get the new box for my wireless internet and take the old one back to Time-Warner, so I guess I will continue to have that $5 “rental charge” on my bill forever and ever.  (My rich children do not understand that their Mom is Scotch and hates to spend a $1 unless it adds pleasure to my daily life.)

The movers came on a Tuesday and packed up everything.  They came back on Thursday.  I spent the day watching them load my stuff on the truck and carry it into the new apartment.  They did a good job putting the furniture exactly where I wanted it. As for unpacking the boxes, it was a disaster. 

By the end of the day I was exhausted.  I went to bed, only to wake up at 2 a.m. coughing and throwing up.  David, who had come to help me move, went into a panic.  But he had to leave on

For the next two weeks I did not get out of my recliner, not even to sleep, except to go to dialysis.  My kidney doctor warned me that I missed dialysis for a week, “You will die.”  That is an incentive to continue.

After going to emergency rooms and doctors, I finally determined I was struck down by a wicked virus, which was making lots of other old people sick.  As I slowly recovered, I spent Tuesdays and Thursdays going for tests for the heart and esophagus for things doctors thought were wrong with me, which proved false. I have excellent cholesterol, am not diabetic.  Most people on dialysis are diabetic, have heart trouble, or have other health problems which is the cause of their kidney disease.  I am the healthiest 85-year-old in Dallas. 

As I felt better, I began to sort out all the things the movers messed up.  I rearranged my clothes in the closet. In the kitchen I climbed up on a stool to bring down from the upper shelves my juice glasses and soup bowls which I use every day.  The books were all on the right shelves – but all mixed up.  Two and a half months later, I still have not sorted them out.  I can’t find my big slotted spoon, a little dish of the B&O Railroad’s blue and white china, a plate (from a set of four), and one of my turquoise “bear claw” earrings.

Now I am fully recovered.  As I walked out the door to go to dialysis, Allen, my Friday driver, said, “Look at you!  You are walking out here like a teenager.”   (Two weeks ago, when Martha was here, she said I shuffled along like I was 90.)

So, now that I feel good, what am I doing this weekend?   Nothing!  I slept late this morning.  Finally climbed out of bed and discovered channel 5 was broadcasting the women’s final in the French Open tennis matches.  After that I went to lunch (delicious beef tostadas), went to a relaxing session of Thai Chi, came home and took a nap. 

Tomorrow?  The same thing.  The men’s final in Paris.  I hope the Spaniard wins.  Sixty-five years ago I took a couple of tennis lessons, tried hard but I could not hit the ball over the net.  Gave up for myself but admire the skill of the champions.

I hope you have a relaxing weekend, too.