I have to be honest: I didn’t wake up on June 6th with the 70th anniversary of D-Day in the forefront of my mind.
Pretend superheroes could hardly compare, so the game was turned off and we watched together the video I had just seen. Sometimes I think grainy black and white images impart a certain incredulousness to the past, so I worried the reality of the whole thing might be lost on them, but they began to ask questions and it gave me a wonderful opportunity to share about that day and how important it was to history. I could tell them, too, that I had been privileged enough to know two different men who came ashore on Omaha beach that day, though neither of them are alive to tell my children their stories.
As the “Greatest Generation” ages, some estimates suggest we are losing up to 1,000 World War II veterans per day. The opportunity to show our gratitude for their sacrifice is closing fast and I would hate to think I neglected to give them honor when I could have done so. And I certainly don’t want to neglect to teach my children what remarkable men they truly were and are.
|Honor Flight Bluegrass Chapter en route to Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy 84 WHAS
Then WHAS, our local talk radio station, all day long was posting pics on their Facebook page from a D-Day Honor Flight. If you aren’t familiar with Honor Flight Network, it is an amazing organization that flies veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their war memorials. This particular Honor Flight of the Bluegrass Chapter commemorated the 70th anniversary of D-Day by flying 80 World War II and Korean War veterans, (some of them actual veterans of the D-Day invasion,) to visit their war memorials.
I heard there were people planning to meet the group upon their return to Louisville. Later I found out my dad, a Vietnam vet, was planning to be there as well. We had some prior commitments for the evening, so I was really afraid we could never make it to the airport in time, but we rushed that direction as soon as we were able in hopes we might make it before the plane arrived.
And I am so thankful we could be a part of this. Honestly, it was one of the most remarkable and moving things I have ever witnessed. And I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am my children could experience it as well.
|Just a couple of the dozens of signs we saw at the welcome home celebration for our veterans|
First of all, there were more than 1,000 people gathered in the Louisville International Airport with flags and signs and cameras in hand. There were moms and dads with children in tow alongside long-bearded men in black leather motorcycle garb. There were current military members in uniform or fatigues and veterans of past wars in their distinctive black hats with gold lettering. I was privileged enough to stand next to an Army wife from Fort Knox whose husband is on his fifth tour in Afghanistan. She had brought her two young sons to see and honor these World War II heroes. And as we waited I saw several arriving passengers stop and ask what all the commotion was about, only to join the crowd when they got their answer.
|One of the many heroes we saw that night|
I truly wish I could convey to you the kind of pride and gratitude I felt just in being there to honor these brave men and the things they did 70 years ago. My children were able to shake hands with several REAL superheroes and they walked away with a greater sense of who these men were and how important their sacrifice was to our freedom and to our way of life.
As we made our way out, five or six of these elderly veterans were gathered together at the bottom of an escalator, talking and laughing some among themselves. They thanked us for coming as we made our way down and we in turn thanked them again for what they did all those decades ago. I regret I didn’t stop right there and take a picture of them all with our entire family.
These were old men; stooped and feeble and gray-haired. But something about the way they stood together, talking and laughing like war buddies might do, I could almost imagine them as the strong young men they were some 70 years ago, back in the day when they simply did what their country asked them to do, and then saved the world in the process.
We owe them so much more honor than we could ever give them and I want my children to know how they deserve our respect and our gratitude. I want them to know that freedom comes at a high price and that ordinary men have stepped up to do extraordinary things in order to preserve it.
I want them to know we must never forget them.
And I want them to know that superheroes really do exist.