Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Remembering D-Day: Soldiers return from war but war doesn't leave them

Just prior to the invasion of Normandy, D-Day, as it's known, General Dwight D. Eisenhower transmitted this message to all members of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It read, in part, "You are about to embark upon the great crusade..."
That great crusade was World War II, and on this day, June 6, 68 years ago, more than 160,000 soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy, France - some coming by water, others by air - in an invasion that has been termed seminal to the success of WWII and the preservation of our democracy and freedoms in this country.

Too few people have paused today to remember D-Day, and the sacrifices many Americans made that day and throughout that war - and other wars that have followed. If you're one of those who haven't stopped to remember, take a moment now.

On this day, I always remember. It is because of a burly, exuberant, ruddy-faced man, with a robust, deep voice reminiscent of Charles Kuralt who I met nearly a decade ago. Bill McMahon was in that first wave to storm Normandy that day, parachuting in with I Company in the 501 Parachute Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.

He lived in Concord when I met him, but I found out today he died in Baltimore in 2005 - the place where he had been born and raised.

McMahon's heartrending sadness as well as his backslapping cheerfulness is still present each time I think of him. McMahon made only two jumps during the war - one on D-Day, and it was scary, he recalled. The plane "ran into fog, but didn't slow down... Quite a lot of men got hurt, drowned." A third of his division was killed during the drop and battle.

The vagaries of war haunted McMahon, as they do a lot of veterans. He missed death by minutes when he left a foxhole when summoned by his commander. The foxhole was bombed, killing the two men he'd left there. A friend was killed on D-Day in one of the first battles. Another was shot that afternoon, shipped home and saw none of the rest of the war.

"People do terrible things in wars," he noted wistfully. "You learn a lot of lessons, most of them bad... Nobody wins a war," McMahon kept repeating to me. "Nobody wins a war."

And so it goes. Soldiers return from war, but war never leaves them. The least we can do is remember their sacrifice.

Posted by Fannie Flono


Redlight said...

They Stormed ashore in the face of withering fire and thousands died but they persisted until the Germans were on the run.

We owe so much to people like Mr.McMahon.

CarolinaDrums said...

Sadly, our so-called President and Commander-in-Chief didn't do anything yesterday to recognize D-Day, salute and remember the brave men who stormed the beaches at Normandy. More than sad, shameful!

Garth Vader said...

@ CarolinaDrums,

He was too busy reviewing his Kill List and petting his Nobel Peace Prize.