We recently observed the 75th anniversary of D Day. The massive attack by the allied forces on the beaches of Normandy.
The anniversary was marked by ceremonies both here and abroad with the president attending the special observances in Normandy.
As I watched the news coverage and the patriotic sentiments expressed at that time, I came to realize how removed we now are from those events that actually shaped history.
As a young child, I have some random memories of the Second World War not fully understanding its actual significance. Fleeting mental images of neighborhood men in uniform, the blackout shades on our windows, my parents collecting coupons in our store for the limited commodities available to our customers. Angela would marvel that I had such memories in my mental file because even though she was less than two years my junior, she drew blanks on many of my revelations.
For instance, I can remember recycling tin cans, cutting off both top and bottom of the can and squishing them flat under your shoe and victory gardens as well. I also remember the references to my cousin Willie Ruggiero, who was from Brooklyn and was killed on the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. I used to study the photos of his handsome, smiling face looking into the camera. He was dressed in his Navy blues, and I would try to imagine him in life, outside of his permanent reference to us as a tragic figure.
So even as young as I was, I had a sense of the seriousness of our situation. I knew that the small flags in some windows embossed with stars meant something important; each star represented a person away from home in the service. It has left a deep and important impression on my psyche, of a time in our country when all the people struggled together for a common goal. How can anyone not there even begin to imagine its actual impact on each and every person, even those as young as I was.
As important as it is to remember and commemorate the history altering events of the past, I recognize that with the passage of time, those events somehow lose their importance to those of us who didn’t experience them even in some small way. I realize that as we move further and further from the point zero of the event, we also lose our ability to really appreciate its true meaning.
Now, in an environment that seems to foment divisiveness and separation based on ideology, even those who purport to be patriots seem to have some misguided notions of what that really means.
The fact of the matter is that the most important lesson to be learned from these historical observances is that, under stress, and in fear of the loss of those things that we value the most, we have been able to coalesce into a united entity, focused on reaching our common goals.
All this gives me cause to feel more assured that our history of unity under stress bodes well for our ability to come together when necessary.
I recently read the statement issued by General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, to the troops as they were about to embark on the offensive. He reminds them of the importance of the struggle not just for us but for the world, and he describes it as a crusade. Of course, you’re inspired to rise to a challenge as important as that because there was an element of self-preservation involved, preserving our country, out ways of life, our democratic ideals.
I continue to look for and hope for a future without conflict. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those war stories became part of ancient history never to be repeated.