I’ve been watching quite a few of the television documentaries about D-Day over the last few days, with more to come this week, I suppose, as we close-in on the 70th anniversary of the event next Friday June 6th. Even 88 year old Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, 92, who rarely travel these days, are taking part in special ceremonies at Normandy commemorating the allied invasion of France during World War II aimed at finally bringing an end to Hitler and his Nazi reign of terror across the world.
We all know the huge numbers of men, ships and equipment needed to pull it off..not to mention coordinating everything down to the last detail without tipping off the enemy.. We also know the enormous cost in human life that would eventually be required for Operation Overlord to succeed.
I’ve mentioned here before about a family member who witnessed the whole thing first hand.
At the age of 35, my uncle, U.S. Army Private 1st Class Raymond Lund, would have been considered the old man of his outfit, Company C. of the 357th infantry.
Most of the soldiers who climbed over the side of their ship and down the rope ladder to waiting landing craft below on D-Day, were 10 to 15 years younger than he was.
I wonder if those scared boys, huddled together in their battle gear, looked to him for reassurance as the diesel-powered Higgins Boat pounded over the waves towards the beaches of Normandy that June 6th morning in 1944.
Uncle Ray survived what’s been called “The Longest Day” only to have his hand nearly blown off in combat a month later.
Ray’s war was over.
After receiving a Purple Heart in a field hospital, he was sent home to spend the next 15 months recuperating from his wounds and be reunited with his pretty young wife of 6 years, Lorraine.
But no sooner was he doing better and the war was finally over..there was no time for celebration. Lorraine, the popular owner of the beauty shop in Volga, became ill. She was taken to Rochester in hopes of getting help but she died on December 7th, 1945. One can only imagine the grief my uncle went through but within a few years, Ray met and married Carol. Son, Mike and daughter Renae came along and, and he went about a long career working for the highway department.
Like so many other veterans of battle, Uncle Ray never talked about the war. As a kid I couldn’t help but stare at his scarred-up hand with the missing little finger but of course I’d never dared ask details about how it happened.
And now it’s too late.
Ray took his memories and nightmares of Normandy to his grave in 1986. But the reporter in me wasn’t satisfied and so, some time ago, I went searching for answers to so many questions about my quiet, self-effacing uncle and the role he played in the invasion but, like many other World War II vets, his service record was lost in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973 so, aside from his discharge papers, its been pretty much dead ends.
I do remember asking my dad (Ray’s older brother) about serving in uniform during a war and he almost sounded disappointed that he was too young for the 1st World War and too old for World War II. I wonder if Ray felt that same sense of patriotism; the need to answer your country’s call; a call strong enough for him to enlist at 33 leaving a lovely young wife behind.
I know that each June 6th I think about Uncle Ray and the hundreds of thousands of others who have laid their lives on the line for the United States of America and I am humbled and so very grateful.