Last week I saw a message on Twitter sent by a friend. She was re-tweeting a meme acknowledging the June 6th anniversary of D-Day. She had added with her tweet, “God bless them for their courage and sacrifice.” I re-tweeted her message with the simple comment, “Thanks Dad!” Given the historical significance of that fateful day and the approach of Father’s Day this weekend, I wanted to take the opportunity to expound on that sentiment a bit further.
Now, as hard as it is to believe, my 98-year-old father doesn’t spend a great deal of time on Twitter. In fact, I am pretty sure he doesn’t even know what Twitter is, but he’s probably hopeful that someone will invent a cure for it soon. However, as a near centenarian, he is one of the relatively few people remaining on this earth that is a living witness to the day that turned the tide in the “war to end all wars.”
Many Americans today think of World War II as a 4-year affair; for the United States it started in 1941 and ended in 1945, period. For many people around the world, however, it was a much longer war. My father would be one of those people. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), which began fighting alongside the British in 1939. Many people do not realize it, but by 1945 Canada had the third largest navy fleet in the world, behind only Britain and the United States, respectively. My father served in that Navy for the duration of the war.
He spent virtually the entire time in the Atlantic theatre, with much of it performing convoy escort duty. His final 3 years of the war were spent as a Lieutenant and Gunnery Officer on a Flower Class Corvette, the HMCS Woodstock. For D-Day, the RCN deployed 126 warships carrying 11,000 sailors to support the invasion force. The Woodstock was among them. The Woodstock was positioned off the area known as Omaha Beach, supporting US forces as they assaulted the coastline. My father, like many of the “greatest generation,” rarely speaks of his wartime experience. I do recall him telling me that, on that particular day, he had never been happier to be on a boat.
He also once told me of the frustrations they experienced prior to leaving port with the convoy. They had all been briefed about this top-secret mission, including specifics about where they would be positioned and what they were expected to do as part of the larger effort. As you may know, weather famously delayed D-day for 24 hours. That meant thousands of sailors and infantry were stranded in port and unable to leave their boats, since the allies couldn’t risk any leaks. The young men could only stand on deck and look at their families and loved ones on the docks below – they couldn’t talk to them or interact in any way. They had been told that a significant number of them may not return, yet they were unable to convey any final message to the people just yards away. That proved to be more torture for them than what the Woodstock crew went through during the actual invasion.
Dad and his fellow Woodstock officers
By all accounts, the direct action seen by the Woodstock on D-day was light, especially when compared to the carnage witnessed on the beaches. Still, we can’t discount their presence and support. Thousands of young men served in a just and noble effort that day to free a continent from the lethal grip of a Nazi madman. They were a special generation facing insurmountable odds, and together, with huge sacrifice, they changed the course of the war, and secured for much of Europe and North America a life free of oppression and misery.
Today, most of them have left us. There are few remaining who bore witness to the insanity of that incursion. I am exceedingly fortunate that my father is one of them. If you know one of these vanishing spectators to history, take a moment to acknowledge their efforts and sacrifice. You may not have many more opportunities.
So, with that thought in mind I simply say; Thanks, Dad. Happy Fathers’ Day.