The first 25 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” was the most violent, most difficult moments of cinema I’d ever seen, to that point. I may be a woman, but I don’t typically cry at films, not even the best of romantic comedies or dramas. Prior to “Ryan,” the closest I ever came was “A League of Their Own.”
I literally could not hold back the tears. I curled up into a little ball in the seat next to my mother and sobbed. I cried out loud, almost hysterically. Those images remain in my head forever and it was just a movie. I’m almost tearing up now as I type this, thinking on those images. I was born in 1981. The War, as some refer to it as, had been over for nearly 40 years by then. I had no concept of what life was like then so for me to be so overcome with emotion was just great story telling if you ask me, but then again, it was also just a great story, a true story.
But I’m not writing to talk about how great a film “Ryan” was or how amazing it is that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have continued to fully tell that story through mini-series, though both “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” are truly wonderful. I’m here to talk about our fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, nephews and others who knew what was best and did it without question. No amount of “thanks” could ever make up for the sacrifices they made for us. If there was ever a time when “father knew best” it was then. It’s tough to imagine what life would be like if it had gone even remotely differently, had there been hesitation or lack of dedication.
I’m focusing on the “dads” of WWII because they did sacrifice. They may not have even been fathers when they went overseas, but in my eyes, making that sacrifice so that others may live and live free, is what a dad does. The rest of us may not have any blood relations to any of our aging veterans, who are sadly leaving us as time marches on, but what could be more dad-like than to decide to go to a foreign country and fight not only for our freedoms but for those they never even met, not knowing if he would return? How many times does a dad wipe away the tears of his child, does whatever he can to protect his child? What dad doesn’t stand up to a bully for his kid or chase away someone who is trying to hurt his offspring? That’s what WWII veterans did for all of us June 6, 1944.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what WWII veterans did. D-Day was one of the most brutal out of many brutal days in that war. So many lives lost due to drowning and extreme violence but in the end it was about the number of lives that ultimately would be saved because of their heroics that matters. These young men came home with much more than the scars on the surface of their skin. They carried heavy burdens of lost friends and comrades. Horrifying nightmares would take them back to events preferred to be forgotten; sights and sounds would trigger anxiety but not one would ever take back his sacrifice for his “kids.” Not one would ever really take credit or call himself a “hero” because he was just doing his duty to his country, to his family. It was simply the right thing to do… nothing more, nothing less.
I once read Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation Speaks: Letters and Reflections.” I want to read the others, but I haven’t gotten to them yet, but I will. One of the things that got me most about that book how many children never got to know their fathers, how many only know bits and pieces through the beautifully handwritten love letters between their parents. What a treasure it is to have those letters forever. It’s living history and it’s a true testament of a father’s love.
So, thanks dads! Our world would be so different had it not been for your love of country and family. You did know best and we can’t afford to not learn from it.