Inspiration and precious unity on the beaches of Normandy

by Admin
Inspiration and precious unity on the beaches of Normandy

Politics hardly took the day off in celebration of Thursday’s 80th anniversary of D-Day in France.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took flack and was forced to apologize for leaving Normandy early to do, of all things, a TV interview on the pending British general election, a boneheaded fail for a British politician from the Conservative Party. The Republican Party’s Joe Biden sleuths who scour video footage for weaponizable evidence of presidential mental decline were clueless enough not to take the day off. What folly.

Meanwhile, first lady Jill Biden ping-ponged back and forward and back again across the Atlantic as she tried to show up for the veterans and her husband while also maintaining her presence in a Wilmington, Delaware, courtroom to support her stepson, Hunter Biden, as he faced gun charges. It was quite the feat from the first lady and her office, and all Americans should be able to appreciate that, regardless of their opinion of the Hunter Biden matter. Or so we can hope.

The veterans, of course, deserved no less than a day of uncommon unity, especially since we are coming to the end of the era of having the ongoing benefit of those who were there and who are now 99, or 101, or even 102. Delta Air Lines and others have been flying veterans to Normandy for commemorations every five years, but, given our shared mortality, it was impossible not to think about how the stately procession of wheelchairs will be far shorter in 2029, if it exists at all. Although one never knows, given that these are some mighty tough old soldiers.

They came back one last time this past week, mostly in their wheelchairs or supported by canes, from residences and retirement homes all across America, Britain and Canada, some stooped, some proudly upright, all living representatives of the roughly 4,400 Allied troops who died on the beaches of Normandy. Many remain mentally sharp and shared vivid memories of June 6, 1944, even though it was estimated that around a half of them had not been back in this old theater since they rose up out of the water on Omaha Beach or one of the other landings where free French children now play. Thousands of French citizens came out to see and thank them; that once-occupied nation has never forgotten their saviors, the soldiers who finally pushed the Nazis out of France, gave the French back their country and sealed Adolf Hitler’s fate.

We were inestimably inspired by the moving exchange between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a man we’ve long seen as rich in emotional intelligence, and Melvin Hurwitz, a 99-year-old World War II veteran from Frederick, Maryland. We’ve played the footage several times, after finding the most revealing angle. Zelenskyy is introduced to Hurwitz by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who says “he is still fighting now.” Hurwitz, lighting up like a firefly at the sight of the Ukrainian leader, kisses his hand and calls him “the savior of the people.”  Zelenskyy is having none of that, moving in for a bear hug, well before the exchange is broadcast on the event’s big screen. “No, no, no,” he says to Staff Sgt. Hurwitz, who flew on a B-17 with the 863rd Bomb Squadron in the 493rd Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force and then reportedly spent the 30 years after the war working in his father’s watch and jewelry shop in Baltimore.

Hurwitz grew up in Maryland, but his parents were Russian immigrants. It goes without saying that Vladimir Putin was not invited to the ceremony, having now firmly positioned himself on the wrong side of history.

“You saved Europe,” Zelenskyy said. “I will pray for you,” Hurwitz said. “Thank you,” said Zelenskyy.

Efforts were made Thursday to honor the role of women who were part of the war effort: A 103-year-old British naval officer named Christian Lamb — a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (colloquially known as the WRENS) who became an “official plotting officer,” using data from radar stations and working on ships’ trajectories — was awarded the Legion d’honneur by French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron noted that Lamb first did this work even as her own fiance was sailing on one of the warships relying on her group for its safe passage, oblivious to his own wife’s role. Macron then explained how Lamb plotted D-Day logistics from Winston Churchill’s secret London bunker.

“You were not there in person but you guided each step they took,” Macron said. “You set us an example which we will not forget.”

Such was the whole day. We’ll just add that we know some other living women who were there for D-Day but did not plot maps, nor break codes, nor rise up from the waves. Their role was on the home front, tending to small children, perhaps, or keeping households together as husbands and brothers went off to fight on the beaches of Normandy, many never to return.

These women replaced men in factories, tilled fields, pushed office paper, sang for the troops, worked behind the counters of stores. Women as a whole live longer than men, so it is probably fair to say that there are more of them still alive in the nations that made up the Allied effort in 1944. Should you be lucky enough to know one, you might ask them about June 6, 1944.







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