By Jim Lee
Sixty years ago today, the biggest invasion in history began. The events at Normandy on June 6, 1944, stir up so many thoughts and feelings. It took place nine months before I was born, so I can’t honestly say I know what anybody went through back then. I have read about D-Day, but that doesn’t come remotely close to experiencing it.
The people of my late parents’ generation are the ones who really know about D-Day, particularly the ones who hit those beaches or worried about loved ones in harm’s way, such as my father’s cousin Ed Irelan (whom I called “Uncle Ed” as a kid). Ed survived the beach at Normandy to die of a heart attack at age 35 just 16 years later.
The deeply moving coverage of the dedication of the World War II Memorial on TV last week of course mentioned D-Day. Over the week much D-Day commentary has been broadcast and published. We have been told about the many acts of valor, the massive number of people, the momentous effect on the war and the years that followed, and how leaders wrestled with the decision to launch. Many stories similar to that of Uncle Ed have been told during this anniversary, too.
So, rather than repeating the coverage of the past few days, I want to pay tribute to the D-Day veterans and mention three survivors of that massive invasion who distinguished themselves both during and after the war.
The first of these is the highly respected actor Charles Durning. He went on to win a Tony, four Emmy awards, and two Oscar nominations in his half-century acting career (so far). He was in the first wave at Omaha Beach and a few months later taken prisoner in the Battle of the Bulge, earning three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.
Another distinguished actor who participated in the D-Day landing was the late Art Carney. Winner of seven Emmy awards and an Oscar, he was best known as Ed Norton in “The Honeymooners.” On D-Day, 25-year-old Arthur Carney caught shrapnel in his right leg, leaving it nearly an inch shorter than his left. He limped the rest of his life.
The third person present at D-Day mentioned here was not an actor but did come from a very famous family. In the first world war he earned a Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. In the next world war, he led the first wave onto Utah Beach. His leadership and gallantry with the Fourth Infantry Division on D-Day resulted in awarding the Medal of Honor to Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., son of the Rough Rider/former President.
Roosevelt won every combat medal issued by the United States Army. Former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, governor of Puerto Rico, and governor of the Philippines, he could have gone on with a successful political career instead of serving his country as a combat veteran of both world wars. Ironically, a month after D-Day he died of a heart attack (like Uncle Ed). He was 56.
Roosevelt, Durning, and Carney are only three of the many. Just as deserving of recognition as these veterans, many other men and women distinguished themselves during and after D-Day. These people, both survivors and fallen, honored us all on the beaches of Normandy 60 years ago today. Stories of what people did with their lives after the Normandy invasion and the rest of the war could fill volumes of books. So could the stories of those who fell. All deserve our profound respect and gratitude. It really is the greatest generation.
Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: