Thoughts on D-Day

Published 9:54 pm Monday, June 8, 2009

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I was born just three days shy of the 40th anniversary of D-Day. What thoughts could I possibly have on it? Just bear with me.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting one of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy that day — June 6, 1944. As I sat with Richard Barba Sr. in a talk radio studio in Chesapeake on Friday, he detailed his story for me before re-telling it on the air for all the listeners of WPMH 670 AM.

Barba was part of the second wave of men to storm the beach that day. Heading over on a landing craft infantry boat, Barba and about 230 men had to abandon ship and swim to shore when the boat hit a mine and was irreparably damaged. Once Barba got to shore, he used his weapon to dig a foxhole and lay there, shooting, until a British destroyer rounded up the surviving men that night and took them back to England.

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Barba’s tale of storming the beaches of Normandy was sometimes humorous, sometimes horrifying. Laughing, he told me that his only injury from the ordeal was because of his “own stupidity” – a knife he had sheathed at his waist went straight into his leg when he jumped from the boat. He wasn’t laughing, however, when he told me about using the corpses of his comrades as body shields while wading ashore, pushing past more bodies floating in the tide.

I was still thinking about the grisly subject material of the interview when I went to visit my grandmother on Sunday. She was only 18 when Barba stormed the beach. I asked her if she remembered anything about the reaction in America to the news of that invasion. That’s when she dropped the bomb.

“Your grandfather was there, in that invasion,” she told me.

Whoa. Shock. Pride. Dismay that I hadn’t known this on Friday, so I could ask Barba if he knew my grandfather. You see, I never knew my paternal grandfather. He died in 1971, more than 13 years before I was born.

Pressing my grandmother for more details, she vaguely recalled that my grandfather received a head injury in the invasion and was sent home to recover. It was during that hiatus that she first met him. After his recovery, he was sent back to war, but it wasn’t long after his return that the war was over, he was sent home for good, and they were married.

I doubt I’ll ever think of D-Day the same way again. Anybody who knows a World War II vet should make it a point soon to get his story, and maybe even write it down. We’re losing these great men at the rate of thousands per day. Soon, it will be too late.