Commentary: Remembering A Father On D Day

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(Nevada City, CA)
Thursday, June 4, 2009

Diane Covington is a writer who lives in Nevada City.

Back in my high school and college history classes, as I sat doodling or day dreaming, if anyone had told me that I’d become a journalist and write about World War II, I would have told them they were out of their minds.   I thought history was just a bunch of men and wars and facts and dates that didn’t impact my life.  But there I was wrong. 
The seeds of my interest in history were at that moment lying dormant inside of me.  They sprang from my dad’s stories about his part in the Normandy invasion and his time in France in 1944. There were funny stories, about the kindness of the French people, when he tried out his high school French.  Or he talked about being a lieutenant in the navy and unloading the huge ships with all the supplies of war. There was the poignant story about the little French orphan, Gilbert Desclos who dad had tried to adopt and bring home to America. But one night, when I was about sixteen and clearing the table after dinner, I noticed that his stories were different. Maybe he thought I was old enough to know more of what really happened.   I sat back down to listen.
He talked about the devastation on the morning of D-Day on Omaha Beach, when the German gunners up on the hills mowed down the troops as they ran from their landing crafts.  He told me how the next day, the beach was covered with bodies and the sea was red with the blood of the 2,000 young men who had lost their lives the day before.  How he lost friends, other officers and enlisted men he had trained with.  He choked up with tears; he had to stop and look away.  I had never seen my father cry. 
My father never spoke of that again.  I didn’t know it then, but that night would change the course of my life, take me to France and influence me to write about what happened on Omaha beach.
Late in my father’s life, just before he died, when he was weak with cancer and had lost his eyesight, I found that when he spoke about the war, he seemed to draw strength from those memories.   His unseeing eyes would shine with pride at what he had done and the part he had played.  I relished hearing his stories again for the last time.  He died in 1991.
Before the 50th anniversary of D-Day fifteen years ago, I traveled to France to research an article in dad’s honor.   I stood on the hill above Omaha Beach, now a cemetery, a piece of American soil, where the bodies of almost 10,000 US soldiers are buried.   I visited museums, watched old newsreels, walked along the cliffs. I was stunned by the power of the place and the story it told, of courage and heroism. 
This is the last anniversary that the veterans, now in their 80’s, will be able to commemorate in France. It may be our last chance to honor the brave men who risked their lives… to preserve our freedom… so many years ago.