Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day, The Day of Heroes

Today, June 6th is the 65th anniversary of World War II’s D-Day. In the early pre-dawn hours on this day in 1944, American soldiers boarded ships anchored in England’s southern harbors, knowing that in minutes they would be crossing the English Channel bound for the uncertain shores of Normandy France.

Many of those soldiers were young, just barely men, yet embarking on a man’s journey that would shape the world’s landscape forever. My father, David Vautier was one of those men. He was headed for Omaha Beach. Still a bright-eyed teenager, and invincible as teenagers often believe they are, I doubt he had any idea what lie ahead for him in what would become know as one of the bloodiest battles of the war, Bloody Omaha.

By the grace of God my father made it to the beach that day and survived the longest day of his life. The steep cliffs of Hitler's Atlantic Wall must have seemed insurmountable after enduring the trek across the flat sands riddled with fallen companions. I once asked him how he managed to survive. “Thin dog tags” he said. “What do you mean thin dog tags?” I asked. He took a deep breath, looked over at me with a certain resignation clearly visible in his aging blue eyes and replied “Very thin dog tags. I kept so low and close to the sand on that beach that the only thing between me and it were my dog tags”. Surely an answer that only another soldier could possibly understand the full weight of.

D-Day was a day of Heroes and my father was one of them. As I comfortably sit here today, in my safe surroundings with many of the luxuries we American’s take for granted, I reflect on his heroism, and the heroism of those who stood shoulder to shoulder with him in the landing boats yet who never even made it to shore. I am grateful. I am grateful for the soldiers of the Great Generation who paid for my freedom with their service and their lives. It is a debt I can never repay.

My father passed away in 2006. It is especially difficult as I watch the History Channel’s D-Day programming and out of habit, or out of love, I reach for the phone to call my Dad and ask him if he was in that town, on that road or in that photo on the show. I now see the spirit of him in all the faces of the soldiers who fought that day, for they are all heroes, each one.

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