Before World War II fades from living memory and thereafter resides exclusively in the history books, take a few moments to appreciate those who actually lived it. After all, the history books can only tell us statistics and names, the locations of battlefields and the number who died there. Only the people who were actually there can tell you the personal stories – sleeping in cow pastures, spending time with your buddies in a war zone, seeing the planes of D-Day flying overhead, the pain of watching your best friend die. The Last Good War: the Faces and Voices of World War II with photos by Thomas Sanders, shines the spotlight on some of these last remaining veterans through a series of affecting portraits and reminiscences. Proud, solemn, spirited, these men and women once again show us what made them “the greatest generation.”
D-Day was June 6th, 1944. This year marks its 65th anniversary. For those who served so long ago, let us take a moment to remember them. As members of that generation die out, we lose those incredibly precious first-hand accounts. For those of us born later, we can always rely on the history that has been faithfully recorded in books and videos.
Check out D-Day:Reflections of Courage, a DVD put out by BBC Video. Shot on location and told from the various point-of-views of American, British, French and German participants, it is an excellent overview of this historic day.
If you prefer a written version, try Ten Days to D-Day by David Stafford. The Normandy invasion was the largest single-day amphibious invasion of all time, landing 160,000 troops on that fateful day in June. An operation that large, involving several different governments and armies required unprecedented planning. Told from several points-of-view, from the Generals and Presidents to the soldiers and civilians, this is a gripping story of courage and sacrifice.
You might also want to take a look at The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, the acknowledged classic of the invasion. Ryan interviewed participants shortly after the war while memories were still fresh and skillfully weaves their personal stories into the overall history. A must-read for history buffs.
And watch for the ongoing Honor Flights, now being conducted throughout the country (Davenport just sent a group in April; another is scheduled for October) Volunteers fly veterans of World War II to Washington D.C. to visit the recently built World War II Memorial. All expenses for the veterans are paid by contributions – a small return to these everyday heroes from a grateful nation.
Today is Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor military veterans. Originally called Armistice Day, it was first observed in remembrance of soldiers of the Great War (World War I) and is set on November 11, the anniversary of the armistice with Germany in 1918 (major hostilities were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month) The name of the holiday was changed in the United States to Veterans Day in 1954, and was dedicated to all veterans.
Most government offices and many businesses are closed today including the city of Davenport. However, both Davenport Library locations will be open their regular hours – Main will be open 9:30am-5:30pm and Fairmount will be open 12 noon to 8:00pm.
If you are interested in learning more about World War I than numbers and dates, I recommend that you search out Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’s harrowing story of what happened to her, her brother, her fiance and their close friends. All of the men were thrown into the “meat grinder” of trench warfare and Vera became an Army nurse in France and Malta. Filmed as multi-part series for Masterpiece Theater, Alistair Cooke stated in his introduction that if this had been a “Hollywood movie” it would have been dismissed as unbelievable but it is in fact, all true. It is a sobering and heart wrenching look at the cost of warfare.