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D-Day veterans all deserve our thanks

I think June 6 is the date at the top of the page. Summer. Time to hit the beach. Recent high school grads and college-age kids are flocking to Destin and Panama City and Daytona and Myrtle Beach and ... well, you get the picture.

They are packing their coolers, I bet - along with their shades and sunscreen and - well, you know what guys take to the beaches.

On this date - June 6 - back in 1944, recent high school grads and college-age kids were hitting the beaches. The beaches had different names, like Utah, Omaha, Juno and Sword. It's the anniversary of D-Day - the Normandy Invasion. It was the first giant step toward taking Fortress Europe back from the forces of evil that had thrown the world into disarray.

That was 63 years ago, if my math is correct - and I won't guarantee that it is. In some ways 63 years is a long time, I suppose. It was eight years before I was born. But in other ways, 63 years is not that long at all when you are talking about remembering an event that changed history - and saved the world - at least temporarily.

Yet, we don't tend to pay a lot of attention to the anniversary of D-Day, and we don't tend to take time to thank those who stormed those deadly beaches on the northwest coast of France, either - those that are left, that is. The number is few and growing fewer each day.

I wanted to talk to a local veteran of the Normandy Invasion this week, and I know there are some still around in our community. There must be. After all, 176,000 men took part in the original assault and 3 million American GIs would follow. Surely there are one or two living in our community who participated in the events of that fateful day.

I wanted to talk to those people. I wanted to find out what they remembered. I wanted to ask them what they were thinking about as the ramp on their Higgins boat dropped down at about 6:30 a.m. I wanted to ask him - or them - about stepping off into deep salt water and trying to make it across the beaches under heavy fire from German mortars and machine guns.

I wanted to ask them if it was as chaotic as the movies all show it to be. I expect not. I expect it was much worse than any motion picture can depict.

I wanted to ask them about the comrades that fell beside them that day, and I wanted to ask them if they were afraid - and if they prayed. I wanted to ask them if they would do it again.

And I wanted to thank them.

But you know what? I couldn't locate any D-Day survivors in our community. I tried. Believe me, I tried. I called people I know who are the sons and daughters of World War II veterans and people I know who are veterans themselves. I talked to people who are active in the American Legion and the VFW, and I called the local chapter of the Veterans Administration.

Then I tried the Internet. I Googled "Conyers, Covington D-Day veterans" and found lots and lots of names. But unfortunately, all of the names I found were in obituaries - many very recent, by the way.

D-Day. June 6, 1944. I hope we haven't forgotten it. I hope we never forget it. But who will keep the memory of D-Day alive after all of those who took part are gone?

It's in the history books, of course. But with the school curriculum being what it is, I'd dare say that many teachers barely get to World War II, and kids who memorize the term "D-Day" and the date and learn where Normandy is on a map are probably ahead of the game. They probably won't ever fully grasp the sacrifices that so many were asked to make or the enormity of the job an entire generation of Americans was given to do.

I am sure there are many of you out there who do know D-Day veterans. I hope you'll put me in touch with them so that I can hear their stories and offer them my gratitude.

Just before filing this column, I did get in touch with an 84-year-old man named Joe who is from New York City but has now retired to North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Joe was on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, and he reluctantly shared with me some of the horror he lived through. And then I asked him that $64,000 question. "Joe, would you do it again?"

He said, "Well, I have a pretty bad case of arthritis, and I have to take blood pressure medicine every morning so I don't know how much use I'd be, but yeah. If Uncle Sam called, I'd be ready to go."

They don't call them the Greatest Generation for nothing.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.