I feel compelled to put up a post about today, the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, in France. I’m tenuously tied to this in two ways, with a connection between the ties.
My Father fought in World War II, in the China-Burma-India theater. He enlisted like so many others after his Knob year at the Citadel, in South Carolina. He finished the war intact and as a Sergeant in the Army Air Corps (later to become the U.S. Air Force). At the time of his enlistment, the story I’ve heard went like this:
Dad and about four high school buddies met in their Illinois hometown and enlisted. Dad was fourth in line. The three friends ahead of him stepped up to the recruiter desk and asked for Navy or Air Corps duty. They got assigned to the Army, in the Infantry. Dad, like me, tried to game the situation and strode forward and said, “I’ll take the Infantry, Army.” He got the Army Air Corps. Thus, I exist.
One of his buddies from high school, the later county judge, a man by the name of Joe Spitz, drew the regular Army, and the Infantry. He went on to land on the beach at either Omaha or Utah… I do not know which. Judge Spitz survived that day, and many after. My father helped repair and maintain B-17 bombers and other cargo planes that resupplied the Chinese in their ongoing fight against the Japanese invasion of their homeland. Dad worked out of what was then called Calcutta (Kolkata, now), in India. I still pore over his tiny wartime paper-backed snapshots of his time there.
Flash forward to close to now. In 2008, my uncle, my father’s brother, organized a family reunion (Dad died in 1999, while I was in Germany on my tour there). This reunion day became a shining point in my memory, because I grew up listening to tales of India, my Father’s boxing sparring partner there – Nick Zitarosa – and of the Hon. Joe Spitz. The reunion went well, and everyone had a great time. Then Judge Spitz arrived.
My mother tugged at my sleeve and told me Mr. Spitz arrived. My stomach dropped. I knew of the Judge’s accomplishments in the war beforehand – how could I not? I was about to meet a D-Day survivor. Mr. Spitz shuffled in the door, and he locked eyes with me. He stuck out his hand and I took a handful of warm, parchment skin and bone. I told him, “Sir, it is an honor to meet you, finally. My Father would have wanted to be here, right now.”
Mr. Spitz nodded, and agreed. He knew that I served in the Army, and then he thanked me. I had no idea what to say back to that statement. I still don’t, and my lack of words shreds my heart to this day.
= = =
Thank you, Dad. I miss you every day since you had to go. Thank you Judge Spitz, no explanation required for this. And thank you to all of my Father’s generation who won a peace for us -we who followed.
We attempt, everyday, to live up to what you earned.