Take a moment for a brief story.
Twelve years ago or so.
My then six-year old daughter hurt her arm in a fall while I was teaching her to ride her bike. I brought her to the emergency room where we ended up waiting quite a while before anyone could examine her.
During that wait time, we sat in a small side room with an elderly man. I struck up a conversation with Mr. Callahan, as it turns out his name was.
I asked him why he was there. He said that the Veteran’s Administration had his records, and they needed to send them over to the hospital where we were, in order for them to address his problem, whatever it was.
I asked him in what branch of the service he had served. Mr. Callahan answered that he had been in the army.
I asked him when he had been in the army. He answered that he had joined up in 1944 and had served four years.
Kind of kiddingly I asked Mr. Callahan where he was on June 6th of 1944. He said one word: “France.”
That meant that he had been in the first waves of invaders in Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944. That day was a day of “blood, toil, tears and sweat,” of death and destruction on a massive, deadly scale. It was a day when those who assaulted those beaches were confident they would die.
The days and nights before D-Day, the boys had all written last letters home, made arrangements, told their wives, girlfriends, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, that they loved them. They had all written something on the order of, “If I don’t make it, please remember…” or “please take care of…” or “please be sure to…”
Each man had made out his will. Many thousands of them did draw their last breath on the bloody beaches of Northern France, and are now spending eternity, in honored memory, under rank upon rank of white crosses on her soil.
Long ago and far away from hearth and home, from family and friends, from warmth, love, laughter and happiness, these boys laid down their lives by the tens of thousands for you and me.
I said to my daughter, “Honey, Mr. Callahan is a hero.”
I figured it was time for me to stop talking and let Mr. Callahan tell anything more that he might want to tell about that time. He didn’t say anything more.
I’m not sure that I did the right thing. Did Mr. Callahan want to talk with someone? Did he want to tell any stories? I didn’t know, and didn’t know how to tell him that we’d listen, respectfully and quietly, to anything he wanted to say about that terrible time.
During all our conversations, we had learned that Mr. Callahan was largely alone. His wife was gone, and his grown children and grandchildren were far away. He didn’t give any sign that he wanted to tell us anything else about D-Day, and we passed the rest of the time in small talk.
During our conversation, a pleasant, attractive lady doctor came in and informed Mr. Callahan that he had an aortic aneurysm. Depending on its severity, this is kind of a death sentence hanging over an elderly person. Mercifully, Mr. Callahan appeared not to understand what it meant. Or maybe he was simply exhibiting the same stoicism and courage that he had exhibited so many years ago on the bloody beaches of Northern France.
Presently, my daughter’s turn to have her arm examined came up — it turned out to be a minor fracture — and we rose to follow the nurse. As we left the room, I reached down to shake Mr Callahan’s hand. My six-year old daughter said to Mr. Callahan, in her tiny, little-girl’s voice, “Thank you.”
Today is the 69th anniversary of D-Day. Please take a moment to remember, in some concrete way, those men whose astonishing courage that day and in subsequent days, weeks and months, made it possible for us to converse, to agree and disagree, to yell and shout our viewpoints from the rooftops, as we do.
Every day is a good day to offer prayers that humanity can leave that dark, bloody chapter far, far behind, never to be repeated again.