My father skippered the LCT 549.
The LCTs were the landing craft transports that carried soldiers onto the beach, and ferried the bodies back.
Up until a few months before he died in 2006, my father still had PTSD nightmares of the morning before the Normandy invasion.
When I lived in the UK, he visited once. We drove to Slapton Sands, and walked on the beaches where they trained. It was so easy to see that these were friendly, gentle beaches. Not at all like the traps that awaited them on Omaha Beach.
The midnight-early morning of the invasion, the navy of "Amis" (French slang for Americans, it also means "friends"), my father had sailed with the flotilla across the short stretch of water separating the mouth of the Dart River in England from France. The order came for the entire fleet to shift position, to move to the starboard (I think). The line of his LCT got tangled in another ship's line. He watched in desperation as day began to break. He said they were like sitting ducks, stuck in front of the German positions buried into the cliffs above Omaha Beach.
The Germans held their fire.
As a family, we always remembered D-Day on certain American "holidays."
From the time I was a child, my father slept in a bedroom separate from my mother. (She was addicted to prescribed pain medications and was an alcoholic, so we will never know the sequence of emotional events.)
When we would tiptoe into his room, he would wake with an exaggerated start and yell. I never understood why.
Many years later, my sister remarried. My new brother-in-law gave my father what he thought was a gift. Something about a history of D-Day. My father angrily threw the gift at his new son-in-law. "What do you think I would do with these? read and remember?"
In his 70s, my father had heart surgery to open up a few clogged arteries. In his post-operative delirium, he tried to climb out of his hospital bed. The nurse was a Vietnam Veteran, and literally climbed onto the bed to hold my father down and keep him from hurting himself. A few years later, following a major stroke at age 81, my father started to have TIAs (transient ischemic attacks, or small, silent strokes). We would take him to the ER, where he would try to climb out of the hospital bed, yelling,
"Over there! over there! I have to get over there, NOW!"
The last time we took him in, there were no beds: a winter flu had taken up all the beds with children and elderly. The hospitalist looked at me and asked, "What the hell is your father talking about?"
I explained that he had PTSD, that he was reliving D-Day, that he was stuck in front of the German positions, and was trying desperately to escape. That if it was OK with him as a physician, rather than leaving my father yelling in a hospital bed in a corridor for the next two days, we would like to take him home. But that the physician had to play this out with me. I was only the daughter.
That the doctor should tell him, 'McKee! McKee, this is an order! I want you to go home now.' The doctor did as I asked.
That day, we took my father home.
In the hours that filled that awful day on Omaha Beach, my father and his crew made several trips to the beach and back. My father wrote an autobiography. I remember reading it and being so horrified, that I never read it again. I do remember my father telling me the story of the flag.
He made it back to Slapton Sands, near the Dart River, in England. He was so exhausted that he fell asleep. He awoke to someone banging on the hull of the ship, "Dammit, take down the ensign (flag)!" My father pulled on his uniform, took down the flag, wadded it up, and pushed it into the bottom of his duffel bag.
Several months later, he returned to the US. He and my mother had married in 1936. She had gone to live and work in New York after he had joined up. She was working as a ticket-taker in Grand Central Station in New York City. The story goes that he walked into Grand Central in his whites, spotted her behind the ticket window, and got in line. "Two one-way tickets to Las Vegas, please," he said. She threw the tickets in to the air, handed her supervisor her cash box, and walked out with my father.
I don't know when he discovered the flag. I do remember that in the 1950s in Los Angeles, that flag flew every holiday outside our home. He refused to get it dry-cleaned ("too expensive"), and threw it in the washing machine. It may look like it's been through a war, but it was really only Maytag.
About 10 years ago I heard about this fellow Howard Dean. One of the amazing (aren't they always amazing) adventures in my civic re-engagement was working at the polls for a few elections. I brought my father's flag in once. Hung it on the wall above the voting stations. Some guy walked in and said, "Who put that dirty rag on the wall? those colors should be retired!" (He was correct, the flag should only be displayed when it is beautiful and shining). But I explained that the flag was a symbol of why we were all there that day.....
Which brings me to today.
It is yet another anniversary of that most fateful day in history.
I, for one, remember. I have walked the beaches of Normandy, and understood the tragic folly of the US strategy that day. If it hadn't been for the Air Force dropping men behind enemy lines, we probably would not have won the day. The cemetery above Omaha Beach is darkly gorgeous and cold with the memories of history.
I, for one, remember what it is like as child growing up with a father with PTSD. Growing up, the man across the street had been a POW in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Never left the house. We couldn't play basketball in the backyard. Couldn't make noise. Terrible alcoholic.
A former Marine lived next door to the POW. And you know what? I don't remember my father, or the Marine neighbor, or any of the Veterans in the town ever looking after their own. Or trying to help with the kids who lived there and grew up with a father who was so, so badly damaged.
And where are we now, as a country? who among us takes the time, makes the effort to do something for our troops, our Wounded Warriors and our Veterans? how many Americans just lived through the past ten years without any memories, without any connection, and less understanding of what we just did to over two million of our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who deployed to OIF, OEF and now OND (Operation New Dawn)?
For the next 50 years, children of this generation of veterans will feel the distance and pain of mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers who returned from war...but returned as different people. Distant. Withdrawn. Filled with nightmares, anger, hopelessness and despair.
Fifty years and over $500 billion to care for them. If we do nothing.
In the past 10 years, the US Army Medical Research & Material Command has worked with insufficient funding to develop new treatments and therapies to keep kids alive on the battlefield. Their evaluation process is, in my opinion, the best in the business - better than any venture capitalist, better than NIH reviews. But USAMRMC funding lurches from year to year. It was effectively cut with the sequester, because so many civilians work in research and provide healthcare as scientists and physicians.
I have my father's flag. It is folded in a box, out of sight, in a closet. But not out of mind. Waiting for....I keep dreaming that I will have it framed some day.
Two years ago, COL Dallas Hack MD, Director of US Army Combat Casualty Care Research Program, told me, "If I had more money and more technology, I could save lives on the battlefield."
I pray for peace, but know that the killing will not stop in my lifetime. Their nightmares will not end. The children will remember the killing and the nightmares.
We must do more for our military.
Because their war never ends.