Glimpses of understanding are all many of us will ever have for what the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy experienced on June 6, 1944. I have looked at it from several different sources, and still, my knowledge is mere shadow when compared to the memories of the men and women who served during World War II.
As heart wrenching as Band of Brothers was to watch, I didn’t have a true understanding of the ordeals faced by the American and Allied soldiers and medical staff until I began researching my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Per my husband’s suggestion, I attended the Conneaut D-day Reenactment. I assumed I’d find some hobbyists with a useful amount of knowledge. I am not ashamed to admit that the whole event was incredibly humbling, and what I discovered far surpassed my expectations.
My journey began when three nurse reenactors graciously granted me an interview and patiently answered all my questions. They directed me to And If I Perish and Heroes From the Attic as additional resources where I would find the specific details needed to create believable scenes in my novel. Both books provided the information I desired, but more importantly, they supplied a sense of approachable familiarity that my research had been lacking. Long before I finished reading, I felt as if I knew the people about whom the books had been written. They became friends with whom I experienced fear, anxiety, sympathy, joy, loss, relief, and a whole host of other emotions. I developed an even deeper respect for them, and I wish I’d had the pleasure of meeting and knowing them.
Another valuable perspective of World War II was the autobiography of Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier’s Story. General Bradley’s account supplied information from the other end of the spectrum, bridging the gap between those in charge and those under orders. As inscribed in the front of the book, General Bradley hoped to help soldiers “understand why they were going where they did.” I believe his memoir answers anyone’s questions if only they are willing to look. While many would criticize those in charge without offering alternatives and/or solutions, I know that I would never want to shoulder the burden that Omar Bradley and others like him did during World War II. To simply say they did the best they could would be insulting. From the lowest private to the highest ranking general, and everyone in between, they all served bravely and selflessly.
This post would be incomplete without attempting to describe the D-day battle portrayed at Conneaut. My emotions get the better of me every time I think about it. It all seems to happen at once.
Landing craft full of American and Allied soldiers about to crash onto the beaches.
The thrill of the B-17 Flying Fortress flying over so close I swear you could reach up and touch it.
The B-25 Mitchell banking in the brilliant blue sky.
P-51 Mustangs crisscrossing the air like darting swallows.
Excitement and tension mounting, trying to remember it’s a reenactment.
The ground vibrating with the boom of the German 88, the shock traveling up through your body.
Black clouds billowing upward from the flame thrower.
Soldiers storming the beach and falling, the dull ache in your chest every time that soldier is American or Allied.
Inch by grueling inch they gain ground.
The Germans relentless, the Americans resilient.
Again the planes, again the 88, the sound of bullets ripping the air.
And then, a small cheer is heard in the distance, rippling through the crowd, swelling.
Clapping and people jumping to their feet.
Tears in your eyes.
The American and Allied soldiers have gained their objective.
Breathing a sigh of relief.
It’s over. For us, right now, D-day is over.
Locking eyes with those around you as your remember that in 1944, it was just a beginning.
I cannot thank the reenactors enough for keeping alive the memory of what brave American and Allied men and women did. Their selfless sacrifice must never be forgotten or rewritten. The sad fact remains that much of this history is not being taught to upcoming generations. Worse, there are those who wish to revise it as something undesirable or reprehensible. As much as this grieves me, it is not enough for me to want this for future generations. They must desire the knowledge of history for themselves.
Until then, I will carry on remembering for every person who served long after the last one is gone.
Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the wonderful pictures from the 2015 Conneaut D-day Reenactment