Today is VE Day. The 72nd anniversary of Victory in Europe, when Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally to Allied troops on the continent.
It’s a national holiday in France, where it’s celebrated with pomp and circumstance. A holiday befitting the momentous end to a world wide conflict that claimed millions of innocent lives.
In the United States, we could care less. We throw our history away on the trash heap of yesterday. We forget what Tom Brokaw termed “The Greatest Generation” and all the sad sacrifices they made to win that terrible war.
That’s why you’ll find me wearing my father’s World War II Army uniform today. I’m proud of his sacrifice and wish to honor him every day, even though he passed a decade ago.
Strange that his 72-year-old uniform fits a son who always looked up to this giant of a man. A man who joined millions of other Americans to fight against the fascist evil that had entombed Europe and threatened to take away our own lives and liberty.
My college roommate lost several uncles during the D-Day invasions in Normandy. My uncle was a heavy drinker, caused family members said from the terrible things he saw while serving under General George Patton as his armored division pushed toward the Rhine River.
I was always struck by how humble these veterans seemed. I never heard them brag about their harrowing exploits, when they faced sudden death on a daily basis. These were quiet American heroes, but heroes nevertheless.
My father sometimes talked about his experiences. How they would live outdoors for months at a time in the cold, cruel European winters.
He was a mortar man. The small organic artillery that infantry squads count on to lob shells at enemy positions they can’t hit with rifles and machine guns.
I still can’t figure out how they carried the heavy artillery tubes and baseplates around on their backs, day in and day out. That’s in addition to their regular backpacks that held everything they needed for daily living.
Sometimes, this mobile artillery was the only thing available to stop a catastrophe. Dad remembered a time when they were battling up the Po Valley in Italy.
His troop column was advancing up a road, when a Tiger tank began machinegunning the defenseless soldiers. The dreaded German tank was feared for its heavy armor and artillery.
Everyone dove for the drainage ditches on either side of the road, the only cover available. Trapped, the American soldiers faced annihilation.
Dear old dad decided the only thing he could do was shell the tank to provide whatever cover he could to allow his comrades to retreat. The Germans would also have to pull their armored hatches closed, severely restricting their vision.
As he set up the mortar, dad discovered that the ammunition carriers had dove into the ditch across the road. And they refused to cross the roadway in the face of heavy enemy fire. So dad decided he would have to risk the crossing both ways to get the mortar shells he needed to fight off the snarling Tiger.
He survived, but death was always a moment away. Such as the time his squad was crossing a large open field and a hidden German machine gun nest opened up.
The American GI’s were being cut to pieces. Fortunately, my father dove into a small depression that saved his life. But when he looked at his backpack later, he discovered the bullet holes that riveted it.
So yes, I still celebrate VE Days all these years later. I celebrate the men and women who fought so valiantly in World War II. Many never came home again, and we should appreciated their ultimate sacrifice.