Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. These are words that have little meaning to many in today's busy world, but sixty eight years ago today they meant life or death for thousands who were about to become part of the largest amphibious invasion in history. Those were the the names of beaches along the French coast of Normandy where allied soldiers would land. They would fight and die by the thousands on this day in 1944. Many of those who boarded the landing craft that overcast day never returned, they died on those beaches so far away. Many who did return have carried life long scars on their bodies and in their minds of what they lived through that day.
Those who took part in D Day are in their late 80's and early 90's now. To meet them or see them now, you would probably not know or realize who these men were at first glance. I have had the great honor of meeting a number of these D Day veterans through the years. Many I have met in the last couple of years via my participation as a Patriot Guard rider. I have met them while escorting "Honor Flights" of WWII veterans to Hartsfield airport for their day trips to Washington to see the WWII memorial, I have had the honor of spending time and talking to many of these veterans and they are truly a living history soon to pass from us.
I have also met others through the years in chance encounters. Some of those later became famous like the actor Charles Durning. He parrachuted into France that day and survived to return to America and a six decade acting career. A more personable and humble man I have never met before or since. I have met others like the small and humble man I met right here in Douglasville in 2011.
Elmer "Gene" Browning was part of the D Day invasion that day. He saw the entire thing from the best seat in the house. Suspended from the belly of a B-17 bomber as a ball turret gunner. Gene recounted for me the awe and the fear that he had that day while looking down on the invasion fleet as his crew and hundreds of other bomber crews and glider crews crossed the English channel headed toward targets in France.
Sadly, we lost Gene last July. Just short of his 87th birthday. Gene is now interred at Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, along side many other WWII veterans and the veterans of our other wars. Gene was the last survivor of his crew: "Elmer's Tune."
As I reflect on the anniversary today, I think of that day in June 1944 that I have only read about, but I also think of those who were there. Those whom I have met. Those who were and are the living history of that day and that battle and of all the other battles. I have met and spoken to many of them over the last two decades. Veterans of Normandy, The Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne, Pearl Harbor, Tarawa, Guam, Guadalcanal, Okinawa and Iwo Jima. All have been very humble and gracious men. Appreciative for the interest shown in them and thankful that there are those who still remember what they did so many decades ago.
Today is the 68th anniversary of one of the greatest battles of one of the greatest conflicts in the history of the world. Soon those who were there, those who participated, those who suffered and have lived with their memories for so many years will be gone from us.
Please take the time to ponder them and their contribution to this nation today and if you have the opportunity to encounter one of these veterans of WWII, please take the time to thank them. Give them a warm smile or a hug and a handshake. Let them know that at the least you recognize them and what they did when they were young. And if you have the opportunity, spend a few minutes talking to them about their experiences. You will never have another opportunity like that again to truly touch and visit with a piece of history.
These men and women are our living history and all too soon they will have passed into the shadows of history and they will no longer be with us. Remember them today while they are still with us and honor those who have gone before them in your thoughts and prayers in remembrance.