June 6, 1944 –“D-Day” – 75 years ago. Allied troupes invaded the Normandy beachhead in France. — who remembers? We had been officially “at war” since December 11, 1941 — and the victory we all prayed for seemed deadly far into the future.
I was 17, and on that day, I was walking down the aisle for my high school graduation and the boys in my class — almost ALL of them — were preparing to go to war. The ones in the classes ahead of mine were already gone. Saturday night dances to the songs of the popular radio program, Your Hit Parade, most often in different people’s homes, became an all girls meeting . We shared mail and discussions about whose boyfriend was stationed in what weird-named place no one had ever heard of in Asia or which Army Air Corps base or Navy ship those boys were likely to have been on, curled up and writing longing letters on what was called “onion skin” paper — “V-Mail.” (V for victory) I can still remember the serial numbers, (required on addresses) of some of the boys with whom I corresponded. I was a prodigious letter-writer.
That was only one of the things we did for the “war effort.” Bob Hope would bring his troupe of entertainers to the most remote corners of the globe, but I wasn’t a celebrity and the only “cheer” I was capable of, was a newsy letter, as funny as I could make it. I can only now imagine how they might have been received – mail call in the midst of bombing and sniping, and surrounded by blood and guts.
We were all-in for “sacrifice.” The government issued “ration” books to every household, which limited the supply of sugar, canned goods, meat and cooking oil, and we couldn’t purchase those or a list of other items without relinquishing some ration stamps. I’m sure that fuel for cars was on that list, although who ever heard of a two car family back then?
We “gave blood” – even lying about our age. My parents were volunteer Air Raid Wardens stationed at assigned times on the roof of our apartment building, dispatched to do — I can’t imagine what — at the suspicion of possible foreign planes hovering over “our” space. Neither of them, or anyone I knew at the time had remotely considered the possibility of ever being a passenger on an airplane.
We didn’t have television and relied on newspapers and radio for information. “Saving Private Ryan” was not even a budding creation in the mind of the not yet two year old Stephen Spielberg.
Too many of us knew one or more than one “kid” who came back home in a body bag or with missing body parts or some who didn’t come home at all. Sadness was pervasive, but life at home went on.
I was bound for college, a commute of sorts — a daily subway ride from Brooklyn to N.Y.U.–( downtown Greenwich Village) — where there was always another passenger to shake me from my sleep so that I would not miss my station, as I held tightly to my tell tale bundle of books. And where, within a year after D-Day, “the boys” were flooding back to colleges on the (free) G.I. Bill.
Obviously, I’ve had several birthdays since D-Day. And when I think of the seismic changes in society, technology, communication, musical trends, standards of behavior, political conduct, healthcare, attitudes about food and fitness, attempts at racial and gender equality, connectivity to the ends of our planet — and of course so much more — I feel so lucky to have experienced “many lives” and much personal growth. Though “today” feels like a low point in that roller coaster ride, I know enough about history to be confident that we will drag ourselves out of this current morass, too. Indeed, it is the lessons of history that give us hope