By Guest writer Joe Finnerty
Another D-Day has come and gone. Much to my surprise, this year’s anniversary (2011) received no media coverage. It should come as no surprise given the ongoing Afghanistan war and the declining number of WW II aged citizens who represent the core audience.
D-Day, June 6,1944. "At the Hedgehogs" (Robert Capa)
In 2006, PBS aired a documentary that brought together three veterans of the invasion, an American, a Brit, and a German. These three men shared their respective experiences and made the epic battle that began on June 6, 1944, engrossing and personal. Their reenactment of the day was vivid and compelling. However, it did not match the story a participant in one of my Reminiscence Writing classes told one year. A physician, he described in graphic terms the carnage he had witnessed on Omaha Beach and elsewhere for months thereafter. Until this class, he had never shared his harrowing memory with anyone.
In contrast and inexplicably, I have no vivid recollection of D-Day. The landing of troops on French soil happened without my knowledge, apparently. It took place two days before my seventeenth birthday, a few weeks prior to my high school graduation and matriculating at college. These events in my life overshadowed the greatest invasion in man’s history.
Until the following June when I turned eighteen, I gave little thought to the prospect of my having to fight in the war. Not until the draft board sent me my induction notice did this possibility hit me. As events unfolded, I entered military service just as the war with Japan ended. After being discharged in 1947, I reentered college and graduated in 1950, soon after which I moved to California. Along the way, I lost track of my high school chums.
As you might imagine, I was delighted to receive an invitation to attend my 50th Anniversary Class Reunion in 1994. During a cocktail hour, we conducted a survey and determined that of the sixty boys who graduated, forty six served in the military. The remaining fourteen had been classified 4-F, which struck me an unusually large percentage. None of my classmates had died or suffered wounds in combat. I regret to say no one surveyed the girls to find out if any of them entered the service, or how many went to college, immediately or later on in life.
The class produced a number of male college graduates, including two priests, one physician, a chemist and five mechanical and engineers. Many attended college under the provisions of the G. I. Bill, including myself.
I learned that the majority of my classmates still lived in or near Hoboken. Some had spent their entire lives working in nearby factories. A few had died, including the class president (valedictorian and priest), and the vice president (best athlete). My best friend and fellow college graduate had died at age fifty, a suicide.
Plans to have another reunion fizzled out, thwarting me from asking my classmates: Do you recall D-Day? I am convinced they would have said yes, leaving me as the only dummy in the class who doesn’t. The explanation is simple. At the time I was in love with what’s her name.