The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Monday, June 30, 2014

A Comment on Comments

If you submit a comment to one of my posts, I'm happy to include it, but I have a few basic rules:

1. Anonymous comments will not be approved. If you're not willing to take ownership of your comment, I see no reason to include it. I don't even read anonymous comments before deleting them.

2. I will not approve comments containing profanity or other language I consider unacceptable. I get to decide the latter...After all it's my blog.

3. Occasionally a reader will submit a comment dripping with invective. I won't approve these either.

That's it.

Monument to Gavrilo Princip?


Among the people mentioned in my most recent post was Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb assassin who murdered Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his pregnant wife, Sophie, as they rode through Sarajevo in an open car on June 28, 1914. I suppose part of my purpose was to highlight certain coincidences in time, how personal and historic events often coincide. Well, another strange but related event has arisen. Moments ago I read that on Saturday, the 100th anniversary of the Sarajevo assassination, the Serbs in that city unveiled a monument to Princip, the man who triggered (literally) World War One and it's 16 million deaths. He was also at least indirectly responsible for bringing us the subsequent horrors that wracked the 20th century. 


Assassination of Franz Ferdinand and Sophie
Below is a photograph of a Serbian actor posing as Princip, pistol in hand, and standing in front of the newly erected statue of the young assassin. A bizarre, tasteless charade, but rather typical of what one can expect these days.
Honoring the Assassin
Apparently the Serbs consider Princip a hero of sorts, something I find more than a little disturbing. Just imagine the people of Richmond erecting a statue of John Wilkes Booth in 1965, a hundred years after the Lincoln assassination. Personally, I can't imagine it. 

Anyhow, in Sarajevo at the statue's dedication, Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Serb leader of the Bosnia-Herzegovina government, gave quite a tribute to Princip:
"Today, we have Gavrilo in East Sarajevo, a revolutionary, a man who to us, is one century of hope. We remember the Young Bosnia members and Gavrilo Princip proudly...Gavrilo Princip’s shot was a shot for freedom. His shot was a prelude to what some Europeans had prepared for years, and Serbs finished the war as winners. We remember Mlada Bosna and Gavrilo Princip with pride."
Gavrilo Princip
Yes, indeed, strange words of praise for the murderer of an empire's presumptive heir and his pregnant wife. And yet given the brutal ethnic cleansing carried out in the 1990s by the Serbs in Bosnia, in which over 100,000 were slaughtered, I suppose one can expect little more. Although the Serbs in Sarajevo celebrated Princip's marksmanship, across town the Bosnian Muslims and Catholic Croats were far less enthusiastic.

Another interesting side note is that Yugoslavia, Lebanon and Iraq, among others, were artificial, patchwork nations, poorly manufactured by the Europeans at the conclusion of World War One. One can only suppose that the problems that have plagued each of these nations in recent decades are just a manifestation of the law of unintended consequences. How foolish we humans are when we trust in ourselves.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Endings and Beginnings, Life and Death

Mom...R.N.
Today, June 28, is my mother's birthday. Martha Catherine McCarthy, née Cavanaugh, was born 105 years ago in Fairfield, Connecticut. She died far too young at the age of 67 and is buried on Cape Cod next to my father, John McCarthy, and my brother, Jeff, in Chatham, Massachusetts. Mom was a wonderful, faith-filled woman, a woman of tremendous patience and empathy who always seemed to know exactly what to say and do to ease the hurts and pain of others. The youngest of eight children, she hadn't yet entered her teens when her mother died, leaving her, until her father remarried, as the "woman of the house." I suspect she grew up quickly. Mom went on to graduate from nursing school and worked as an RN for several years before she and my father married on July 4, 1935. No day passes when I don't think of her. She is always with me, reminding me in her quiet way of what is right. Sometimes I actually listen.


Franz Ferdinand and Sophie
Back when I was in high school, I came home one afternoon all excited about a fact I had come across in my tenth-grade World History class: "Hey, Mom, did you know that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on your birthday?"

"Yes," she said, "I'm well aware of that. I was just a little girl at the time, only five"

"Do you remember it?"

"Just vaguely. I remember my father saying something about the 'stupid Europeans' but I don't think he or many others thought it would lead to war."

So ended the conversation. Both of my maternal grandparents had immigrated from Ireland and I expect they were happy to forget about all things European.

Memory's an interesting thing. Because of its connection to my mother's birthday, I've always known the date of that fateful event that occurred in 1914, one-hundred years ago today. The assassination of the archduke and his wife, Sophie, in faraway Sarajevo meant far more than the tragic deaths of two of Europe's royals. It not only put into motion the chain of events that led to World War One, but also precipitated the global insanity that made the 20th century the bloodiest in human history. Hitler's National Socialism, Mussolini's odd brand of Italian fascism, and the Communist slavery of Lenin and Stalin all grew out of this horrendous war. And yes, "the war to end all wars," the war that would "make the world safe for democracy," did neither but instead gave us an even more horrendous global war. 

Interestingly, although that first war ended with an armistice on November 11, 1918 -- at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month -- it wasn't officially over until the grossly irresponsible Treaty of Versailles was signed, interestingly on June 28, 1919, exactly five years after the Sarajevo assassination. This was also my mom's tenth birthday, a day I'm sure she remembered more clearly than the earlier date.

Yes, life and death often coincide on the calendar. Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb who assassinated the archduke and his wife, was born on July 25, 1894, exactly 105 years before the birth of my eldest grandchild, Pedro Santa Ana, who will celebrate his 13th birthday in a few weeks. The young assassin -- He was only 19 at the time -- died in prison of tuberculosis several months before the end of the war brought about by his actions.

Noor Inayat Khan
About 20 years ago, maybe a little more, I came across a book in a used book store in Norfolk, Virginia. Tucked away on a shelf labeled "Military History", it bore the intriguing but cryptic title, Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan (Madeline). After flipping through its pages, I bought the book for all of three dollars. Once I began reading I couldn't put it down and finally finished it late that evening. 

I was captivated by the subject of this true story about a remarkably brave young woman. It was the story of Noor Inayat Khan, an Indian-born, Sufi Muslim who volunteered as an undercover agent for the British Special Operations Executive during World War Two. In June of 1943 she was flown to a secret landing site in France. For the next four months she worked with the French resistance radioing critical information back to London. While in Paris, she was betrayed to the Germans and captured in October 1943. She underwent a month of vicious interrogation during which she revealed nothing. Labeled an "extremely dangerous prisoner," she was sent to Germany where she was imprisoned for months in solitary confinement with her hands and feet shackled. Eventually Noor was sent to Dachau and summarily executed along with three other female undercover agents captured by the Germans: Yolande Beekman, Elaine Plewman and Madeleine Damerment.Their bodies were burned in the camp's crematorium.


Crematoria at Dachau
It was then I discovered that all four women were executed on the day I was born, September 13, 1944. I found this particularly interesting since I had actually visited Dachau with my family in the fall of 1951. Although I was just seven years old at the time, that visit made a lasting impression on me, especially the crematoria. Now, years later, I can't celebrate a birthday without thinking of this brave woman and her three companions whose lives ended just as mine was beginning.

Life and death, beginnings and endings -- every ending, every death brings a new beginning, new life. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Western Trip Part 5: Everything Grand

I've stepped away from writing about our recent road trip to the West Coast simply because this past week has been so very busy. I've had to teach a couple of day-long courses for the diocese, programs that demanded a lot of preparation. I also came down with some sort of flu that put me in bed for a day of two. But that's all behind me now so I've decided to finish my little blog-based travelogue.

After leaving picturesque Barstow we made our way east, headed for Flagstaff, Arizona. We checked into another dog-friendly La Quinta Inn and because the day was still young, decided to make the one-hour drive north to Grand Canyon National Park.

As senior citizens we can take advantage of what is surely the best deal in America. For the remarkable sum of $10 a senior citizen can purchase a lifetime pass that lets one enter any national park free of charge. Actually, everyone in the car is covered by this little magic pass, so it is truly a great deal. Many parks charge entrance fees upwards of $20 or $25 per car. If you're interested, or if you know someone who is at least 62 years old, here's a link to the online application: Senior Pass. You can also purchase the pass at any national park.

When we arrived at the park's south rim visitors center the first interesting encounter involved several elk strolling through the parking lot. I'm fairly certain this was the first time I'd met up with elk in these circumstances so naturally I snapped a bunch of photos. Maddie was very excited to see these large critters which I suspect she assumed were just big dogs.
An elk at Grand Canyon National Park

We spent the next few hours marveling at the canyon itself. It is too magnificent to describe and indeed looks almost unreal as one stands on its edge trying to take it all in. Because it was a weekday in mid-May (children still in school), the expected crowds were manageable, but I was surprised that well over half the tourists were Chinese. Most were in large groups that had arrived in tour buses. They all seemed very impressed with the canyon and I did my part to aid our floundering State Department by volunteering to take several group pictures. I have yet to receive a single word of thanks from Secretary Kerry. (Photos of our visit follow,)
Dear Diane, Maddie and I at the South Rim
Grand Canyon View

Grand Canyon View
Grand Canyon View
Grand Canyon View
Grand Canyon View
Grand Canyon View

The next morning we rose early and drove south along one of the most scenic roads in America, SR 179,  which runs through the magnificent Oak Creek Canyon and leads to the beautiful town of Sedona. In Sedona we had breakfast at a terrific restaurant, Ken's Creekside Cafe, where we were seated on their patio so Maddie could join us. After breakfast we drove around town a bit, before retracing our drive back to Flagstaff and from there continued our eastward trek headed for Santa Fe, New Mexico.
View in Oak Creek Canyon
View near Sedona, Arizona
Sedona, Arizona
Lovely Navajo vendor - bought a pot from her

Along the way, just west of Winslow, Arizona, a town made famous by The Eagles in their 1972 song, "Take It Easy," we stopped to see the even more famous Meteor Crater a few miles south of I-40. I've stopped there at least three times in the past -- I just can't resist the place -- and the kind and loving Diane always humors me and let's me pay the exorbitant entrance fee so I can take more photos of this giant, mile-wide hole in the ground. It's actually quite impressive and makes one grateful that this large meteorite struck in the Arizona desert thousands of years ago and not in central Florida today.
Meteor Crater
Meteor Crater

Leaving the crater behind we soon crossed the border into New Mexico. Along the way we made another brief stop, this time in Thoreau, New Mexico, which happens to be the home of St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School where our elder daughter, Erin, worked as a teacher back in the 1990s. Erin thoroughly enjoyed her time there teaching Native American children. As I recall most of the students were Navajo and Apache. While I snapped a few photos of the school we met one of the teachers who's been at the school since the 1990s and thought she was probably Erin's replacement. Visit their website and support the work of this wonderful school by donating a few dollars.
St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School, Thoreau, NM
St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School, Thoreau, NM
St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School, Thoreau, NM

In Santa Fe we stayed at another pleasant, dog-accommodating hotel, the Santa Fe Sage Inn. It had been a long day, so we grabbed a bite to eat and turned in early. We spent the next morning walking about in downtown Santa Fe. We stopped by a few art galleries, spent a quiet moment on the patio of a lovely little coffee shop, brought a couple of souvenirs at a sidewalk market, and then made our way to the Loretto Chapel and it's spectacular and very famous spiral staircase. Read the story of this seemingly miraculous staircase on the chapel's website: Loretto Chapel.
Morning coffee with Diane and Maddie
Silhouette of Sculptures atop a Sante Fe building
Unique Santa Fe tour guide
Native American crafts for sale in the Plaza
Locals chillin' in the Plaza
Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe


Amazing Staircase in the Loretto Chapel
After Santa Fe Dear Diane and I decided we'd had a wonderful time on this trip across the USA, but it was now time to go home. Poor Maddie, too, was beginning to get a bit punchy after three weeks on the road. We therefore stayed on the interstate highways and put the pedal to the metal. We did no more sightseeing and were home two days later.

So endeth the trip.

G. K. Chesterton, RIP

The great -- and I don't apply that word to people too often -- G. K. Chesterton died 78 years ago on this date in 1936. A convert to Catholicism, Chesterton can be counted among the most influential writers of his time. He was also a brilliant apologist for orthodox Christianity, a man who never tired of sharing the joy he experienced in being a child of God. A remarkably prolific writer, he authored dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, some truly wonderful poetry, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of articles on almost every subject imaginable. Everything and everybody interested Chesterton. His friends ran the gamut of political and religious belief, which provided him with many opportunities to exercise the art of argument. But with Chesterton arguments were always an enjoyable experience, a chance to attack ideas but never the people who held them. An argument with Chesterton never turned into a quarrel.

I began reading Chesterton while still in my teens, after coming across some of his books in our home library (Thanks, Dad.), and I'm still reading him today, fifty years later. If you're not familiar with G. K. Chesterton, or if you've never read him, I suggest you take advantage of the recent resurgence of interest in him and his work. Indeed, for some time now Ignatius Press has been publishing his collected works, a project that will result in upwards of forty large volumes. This same press also publishes many of his more popular books in separate editions. Here's a link based on a search on their website: Chesterton on Ignatius Press. If you'd like a starting point, read Orthodoxy, or The Everlasting Man, or even some of his many Father Brown mysteries. I also suggest reading his insightful biographies of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi

Through his writings Gilbert Keith Chesterton has made my life a lot brighter and certainly more interesting than it would have been without him. Oh, yes, lest I forget...Last year his cause for sainthood was opened when Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton, England, gave the go-ahead to begin the process. You can read about it here and here.

God bless GKC.

Friday, June 13, 2014

JFK Funeral, a Postscript

I received an email today from a friend who had read yesterday's post. He asked if I could pass along the words of one of the hymns our Naval Academy Catholic Choir sang on the White House lawn during JFK's funeral. He was particularly interested in the hymn, Above the Hills of Time the Cross Is Gleaming, which is sung to the tune of Londonderry Air. Londonderry Air is perhaps more widely recognized as the music of Danny Boy

[An interesting note, though: the words to Danny Boy, considered by many of us who are of Irish descent to be a true Irish ballad, was actually written in Bath, England by Frederic Weatherly, an English lawyer. And even more disheartening to us Catholics with roots in the Republic of Ireland, the tune -- Londonderry Air -- originated in County Londonderry now in Northern Ireland and is often played as the victory anthem of Northern Ireland. The tune has a rather complex history and is used as the music for the lyrics of well over a dozen songs.]

Anyway, here are the requested lyrics to the hymn we sung at the request of Mrs. Kennedy:

Above the hills of time the cross is gleaming,
Fair as the sun when night has turned to day;
And from it love’s pure light is richly streaming,
To cleanse the heart and banish sin away.
To this dear cross the eyes of men are turning,
Today as in the ages lost to sight;
And for Thee, O Christ, men’s hearts are yearning,
As shipwrecked seamen yearn for morning light.

The cross, O Christ, Thy wondrous love revealing,
Awakes our hearts as with the light of morn,
And pardon o’er our sinful spirits stealing,
Tells us that we, in Thee, have been reborn.
Like echoes to sweet temple bells replying
Our hearts, O Lord, make answer to Thy love;
And we will love Thee with a love undying,
Till we are gathered to Thy home above.

These beautiful lyrics were written by Thomas Tiplady, an English Methodist minister who was also a prolific writer of hymns. Born in 1882, he served as a chaplain in the trenches during the worst days of World War One and died many years later in 1967.

While I'm at it, I might as well include the lyrics to another hymn we sang that day. It happens to be one of my favorites, the Navy Hymn, or Eternal Father, Strong to Save. As I recall, because of time constraints, we sang only the first verse, but I might well have forgotten some of the details of that morning. It was, after all, over 50 years ago. As a naval aviator, I have always appreciated the third verse I've included below:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea! 

O Trinity of love and power!
Our brethren shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe'er they go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair;
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer,
For those in peril in the air!  

Here's a video of the Naval Academy Men's Glee Club, singing Eternal Father during a 2008 concert in San Antonio, Texas.I, too, was a member of the Glee Club, although several decades earlier.

 

As I said yesterday, that day in 1963 was a sad day for the entire nation, and a day I will never forget.

God's peace...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

JFK Funeral

I didn't know why this came to mind today, but it just did, unbidden. I think perhaps it has something to do with aging and old memories that seem to arrive without notice. This particular memory is very vivid.

Over 50 years ago, on Monday, November 25, 1963, the entire nation -- Democrats, Republicans, and citizens of every other political stripe -- mourned the tragic loss of our young 35th president and watched his funeral on their televisions. At the time I was a lowly 19-year-old plebe (aka, freshman) at the United States Naval Academy and was also a member of the academy's Catholic Choir.

As it turned out, Jacquiline Kennedy, the president's widow, requested that our Catholic Choir take part in the funeral by singing several hymns at the White House North Portico shortly before the funeral procession began its long march to the cathedral and then to Arlington National Cemetery. The three requested hymns were:  Above the Hills of Time the Cross Is Gleaming (Londonderry Air); Eternal Father, Strong to Save;  and Dona Nobis Pacem.
JFK's funeral procession leaves the White House

Despite the sadness of the event, it was a remarkable experience. As we stood solemnly on the lawn late that morning waiting for our cue to begin singing, we couldn't help but notice the notables who had gathered there with Mrs. Kennedy and the entire Kennedy clan. I remember seeing Haile Selassi, the Emperor of Ethiopia, who at 5 feet 4 inches looked very small indeed standing not far from President Charles de Gaulle of France who at 6 feet 5 inches towered over everyone. Some others I spotted included Golda Meier of Israel, Willy Brandt, then the mayor of West Berlin, and Prince Philip and Harold Wilson of the UK.  It was quite a crowd, and included dozens of other dignitaries from around the globe, none of whom I recognized. But they certainly looked very impressive.

It was an honor to be a member of that choir and pay a tribute to a fallen president. JFK had actually paid a visit to the Naval Academy just a few months earlier. Indeed, the visit took place during our Plebe Summer, which is the innocuous name given to the grueling first few months to which new midshipmen are subjected. During the course of his remarks to our Class of 1967, he used his power as Commander in Chief to grant us a form of immunity from the punishment-generating demerits we had accumulated. It was very well received.

Here's a 10-minte YouTube video that includes our singing during the last two minutes and even a brief glimpse of our choir just before the video ends. I'm in there somewhere. It's the only video of the funeral I could find in which our choir can be heard and seen.




Saturday, June 7, 2014

Swapping a Deserter for Five War Criminals

I won't speculate as to why the president felt it was necessary to release five very nasty war criminals from Guantanamo in exchange for the release of an American soldier who deserted his post and his comrades. Sadly, there also seems to be fairly strong evidence that Sgt Bergdahl engaged in some level of collaboration with the enemy. As one wag observed, "We traded five grenades for one water pistol." There certainly doesn't appear to be any national security rational for this "deal," which will likely return these five nasties to active involvement in the conflict. If anything, our willingness to negotiate with these terrorists will only energize them to seek out high-value Americans and kidnap them knowing that they can expect to be rewarded.
The Five War Criminals

The Deserter
To my knowledge all of the president's senior military advisers were completely against the swap, which appears to have been supported only by his political team. The reasons offered by the White House, specious reasons which seem to dribble out anew every few hours, aren't very likely. For someone supposedly on death's door, Sgt Bergdahl appeared to be in reasonably good health. Even Senator Feinstein, a Democrat and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated that she believed there was no "credible threat" against the life of Bergdahl. Not surprisingly national security advisor Susan Rice was intent on once again making a fool of herself on national tv by claiming that this deserter "served with honor and distinction." And then the president went public and attributed any opposition to the deal to politics, which I find especially odd since a growing number of his own party publicly oppose him on this. I suppose he's hoping that most of the public won't know this and will just accept whatever he and the mainstream media tell them. Unfortunately, he's probably right.

According to the Obama administration the five released Taliban commanders would be subject to “restrictions on their movement and activities." In other words the government of Qatar would keep a tight rein on these terrorists and ensure that they would not re-enter the conflict, for at least a year.  And then come the reports from Qatar. The released terrorists will have no restrictions on their movements within the Arab Emirate. Such a good deal!

But more disturbing than all this misinformation are the reports issuing from the administration that the sergeant's platoon-mates, who have come out strongly against him, are perhaps a group of undisciplined psychopaths. These accusations are absolutely despicable and are certainly unworthy of the commander in chief. As someone who wore the uniform of our nation for nearly 30 years, I just don't know what to make of it. I simply cannot conceive of a commander in chief who would do such a thing. 


Vice Admiral James Stockdale
I'll make one prediction: Sgt Bergdahl will not face a court martial. I base this opinion on the precedent set at the end of the war in Vietnam. In addition to the hundreds of unbelievably brave POWs, several of whom I knew personally,  there were a tiny handful who collaborated with their communist captors and accepted special treatment, including early release. When the other POWs were finally released, their senior officer, Vice Admiral James Stockdale, brought charges against those who had collaborated. Stockdale who earned the medal of honor for his heroism as a POW, was rebuffed by the Department of Defense. DOD decided not to prosecute, believing that doing so would only result in more division in a country already polarized because of the war. 

I can't believe that our current administration will act any differently.

Western Trip Part 4: Grandchildren and Tahoe

Dear Diane and I have four grown children -- two daughters and two sons -- who have given us nine grandchildren -- three granddaughters and six grandsons. Until recently all four families lived in Massachusetts so it wasn't too difficult to visit the entire clan during the course of a single trip north. But things have changed. One daughter and her family moved to California last summer and one son and his family will move to Texas this weekend. The logistics of family visits has, therefore, become much more complex. Indeed, our recent trip west to visit the California branch of the clan is a perfect example. It's hard to combine visits when much of the family is separated by 3,000 miles.

And so, on this trip we spent time with only two of our grandsons, Ezekiel and Phineas.  As I related in yesterday's post, as a family we celebrated Ezekiel's First Communion. But we also got to spend a week just hanging out with the boys who took a special interest in our dog, Maddie. Some photos follow...
Daughter Siobhan and Phineas
Ezekiel practices for his piano lesson
Dear Diane and Phineas
Ezekiel looking cool in his hat
Phineas and Ezekiel
Boys playing Yahtzee with Mom and Maddie

Leaving Siobhan, Jeffrey, and the boys wasn't easy and we began our trip home with more than a little reluctance. Our first stop was South Lake Tahoe where we stayed at another very accommodating dog-friendly hotel -- Three Peaks Resort & Beach Club. We located a pleasant restaurant nearby -- Blue Angel Cafe -- that also welcomed pooches in their outdoor seating area. The food was quite good and our pretty waitress was very attentive to Maddie, offering her a bowl of cold water and a treat or two. Afterwards we drove around town a bit and took in some of the local sights, then walked Maddie down to the shore and enjoyed the spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. Tahoe is certainly a beautiful spot and I can understand why our daughter and her husband go there so often.
Lake Tahoe

We spent most of the next day driving south from Tahoe to Barstow, California along US Highway 395. Taking this magnificent route is a joy. It passes between the Sierra Nevadas and Death Valley and, as you can see by the photos I've included below, it offers some of California's most beautiful scenery.
California Mountains
Another beautiful view...
And another...
Another...

Eventually we arrived in Barstow, one of those incongruous places, a city that, for reasons I cannot imagine, just rose up out of the desert. Although not a very picturesque spot, Barstow offered a convenient stopping point for us since it's home to a wide selection of motels, including a dog-friendly La Quinta Inn. After a good night's rest we left Barstow and turned east toward our next stop, Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon which I'll describe in my next post.

Here's a link to some of the photos I took during our time in California: Flickr California

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day, 70 Years

In September I'll celebrate (very quietly, I hope) my 70th birthday. This is an undeniable fact that I seem to have trouble accepting. Turning 30 didn't bother me, neither did 40 or 50 or 60. There's something about 70, though -- three score and ten, the natural allotment of years, after which we have no guarantee -- that has made me pause and realize this life is definitely coming to an end. It's not that I worry about aging or fear death, because I don't. Both aging and death are natural elements of life itself. I accept them. No, I'm simply surprised that my life has reached this point so quickly. But time doesn't pause; it moves right along.

This came to mind today as I watched some of the news coverage about the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. For the first time I realized that perhaps a majority of Americans know little, if anything, about the events we're celebrating. When I was a child, World War II was not the distant memory it is today. After all, I was born during the war. And most of the men I knew -- neighbors, local businessmen, relatives, scout leaders, and, yes, my father -- had served during the war and many told me of their experiences which ran the gamut from the mundane to the heroic. They were normal men, just average American guys, who were called into service, responded willingly, did their duty and much more, and then returned to their civilian lives thankful they had survived the war. The survivors didn't consider themselves heroes; that was an honor they bestowed on those who never returned. If anything they experienced a sense of guilt that they had survived while so many good men had died.

The point or all this? I was too young to recall the war years, and yet World War II was a definite presence during my childhood. As a child I listened to the adult conversations around me, and much of what I heard was about the war. It was what people talked about, and it was fascinating. And then, when I was only seven, my family spent a year in Germany and I saw first-hand the destruction that country had brought on itself. The scars left by the bombing were still visible in many of the cities, and when I walked through the gate at Dachau I could sense the evil that spawned the horrors of that camp.
Berlin 1945: Photo taken by my father

The Gate at Dachau
The men who landed on those Normandy beaches on D-Day began the long process that would take the ground war to Germany itself and ultimately bring an end to all the destruction, all the horror. Far too many of them, especially the young Americans who landed on Omaha and Utah Beaches, sacrificed their lives that day. But their deaths were not in vain because enough of their buddies made it across that beach and many other beaches across the globe, and eventually drove our enemies to surrender.
D-Day: Seawall at Utah Beach

Although I was born three months after D-Day, it remains for me a day to remember. Teach your children and grandchildren about that sad and glorious day so they, too, will always remember.

Pray daily for those who put their lives on the line in defense of our country, in defense of freedom, in defense of you. And pray for peace.