Historical lessons from June 6th, D-Day

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Jason Pankratz - Tillsonburg Legion

Generally, my generation doesn’t understand the feeling of true military sacrifice. I don’t know if my generation or the younger one could handle it.

There is an Internet post that states, “1944: 18 year olds stormed the beaches of Normandy into almost certain death, ‘Today’: 18 year olds need a safe place because words hurt their feelings.” This comment lends itself to many lines of conversation.

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces invaded Europe to stop the actions of the Axis. Historical understanding knows that this date was more than “the free world versus Germany.” It was an operation that was designed to liberate countries that were occupied by an ideology of extreme imperialism, nationalism and ethnic/cultural supremacy.

I have had the opportunity to know individuals who participated in those Normandy landings and many of those who prospered due to the success of that operation. I have often written about my travels to Europe with Robin Barker-James. Thanks to Robin, I was given a better sense of sacrifice and survival.

On my first trip, which commemorated the 60th anniversary of D-Day, I got to know a few men who were part of the Juno Beach landing. Juno Beach was the designated landing site for Canadians on the northern coast of France. We had a tour of the beach and spent the night in Dieppe. In the morning, I meandered my way down to the breakfast room of our hotel and searched for a seat among the 40-plus people on our trip. I sat with two older gentlemen who I knew were veterans of that conflict. It didn’t take long for those men to start talking about their war experience. This, to my surprise, was not the breakfast conversation I was accustomed to. I sat quietly listening and trying to remember every word.

The one gentleman was talking about how he entered Juno Beach in the first wave of soldiers. I was in awe as he told his story as matter-of-fact and freely as he did. I sat listening with bated breath, not listening to his story of survival or the conditions, but rather taking in the fact that I was conversing with someone who was there, I mean... really there. His introduction to France was literally 60 years prior to this discussion over croissants, cheese and strong European coffee. Then I clued into what he was describing. He was a survivor of the first attack wave of Canadian soldiers on Juno Breach.

I later asked another veteran of the Normandy landings what it was like to live through the war, come home, raise a family, and try to be ‘normal’ after witnessing what he did. He looked at me softly and responded “But that was my life.” No truer words had been spoken. All the nostalgic romance was realized as memory not reality. Every individual experiences life pertinent to themselves. What others see as traumatic or glorious is just and experience someone was experienced firsthand. This by no means diminishes glory or trauma. It just puts things into perspective, how others view the experiences of others. Empathy is a double-edged sword for the recipient and the interpreter.

The position of many historians is to have those who have not experienced certain events achieve a greater sense of understanding and empathy. This should encourage us to ask questions, hear stories and seek out the experiences of others. We ‘celebrate’ World War I because of its 100 year anniversary. But we also celebrate it because all those soldiers are gone. We live in historic nostalgia about the time, events and people of that era; which can only be accessed through historical records, media interpretations, and memories of those who knew individuals.

Here are some dates to mark on your calendar... Saturday, June 3rd will be a Pork BBQ from 2-7 p.m., $20 tickets raising money for to “Paws for a Veteran,” a fund that raises money for Veterans and Service Animals. This event is paired with Jack’s Snooker Club.

On Saturday, June 17, we’ll be hosting another Tribute Show and Dance at 8 p.m. All tickets can be purchased at the Legion.

Lastly, make sure to come into the Legion canteen and raise a glass on Tuesday, June 6 to the memory of those who participated, were liberated and lived during the war years. 

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