To Honor …
I wish to go off my normal tract this month.
June 6th Marks the 70th. anniversary of the Normandy landings. Seventy years since so many men went bravely onto the beaches and dropped into the back lands of Normandy to do battle. Seventy years since thousands stood and defended the Atlantic Wall that those Allied soldiers, sailors, and airman attacked.
There will be thousands going to the site to honor those that fought and hundreds that will be there as living history interpreters that wish to illustrate the conflict, its tools and combat techniques, as well as to lead tours and answer questions.
My father was an I & R (Intelligence and Reconnaissance) soldier attached to the 2nd Rangers (of “Finding Private Ryan” fame), that climbed the cliffs of Pont Du Hoc. I will allow you to take the time and effort to seek the history of these brave men. He had trained, lived with, partied, and knew so many of the young men that did not come back from that part of the battle. He has never fully recited his experiences on that section of the battle field. When consulting with the aforementioned film, he had a break down that caused him to seek mental and spiritual aid for many months. During that time my understanding of what one man experienced in such circumstances increased a thousand fold, both through sessions with him and research through speaking with others who served with him and official records.
Those patch work explorations provided a better understanding of the ‘whole’ that his one man lived through that day. Nearly all were moments of fear, distress, adrenalin rushed moments, sorrow, anger, fatigue, and relief. There were moments of humors as well; the moment father swallowed his plug of tobacco, which, ironically, he was chewing to relieve him of seasickness, his remembering the German soldier who was manning his machine gun in his underwear, (father has stated he kept wondering if the man was getting his legs burned by the expelled and hot shells as they fell around the soldiers feet, and the moment father and two others found a bottle of wine in a bunker that, in the middle of the battle they tiffed over in who now owned the prize.
There were far too many moments of battle strung horror that still haunt my father’s dreams.
He is but one of thousands, Allied troops and defenders who had stories to tell and memories to keep.
Most are now gone and those that remain soon will join their brethren in the place of peace reserved for all warriors who have already seen purgatory.
How do we interpret those stories? Do the complete narrations come through with a costumed interpreter? How does that person truly tell the whole story when the concentration only covers that specific moment in time and does not tell the aftermath, good and bad. Do static displays truly convey the personal emotions experienced at that moment in time. Do we need more interpretations of the families of both sides as they receive word that a loved one died on that day? Do parades, celebrations, expressions of gratitude express enough of the tale? Will the public who walk those shores and cliffs, truly better understand the lives of those involved?
These are questions I have examined through 50 years of living history costumed interpretation, whether I am presenting my field of study, the American Civil War, or daily life in a new Colorado town in the 1880’s. I have many opinions but not full concrete answers. I do know that it goes far beyond entertainment or, if you will, “interpretainment”. I know that , as interpreters, we are obligated not to forget those that went before us, or to make a mockery of their lives.
Above the beaches of Normandy sit numerous graves, graves of thousands from a multitude of nations who did not leave the battlefields of Europe. There are many such sites throughout the world honoring men and women who have given “ the last full measure and who are slumbering among their comrades.
At these sites are many who interpret, guide, and assist those who come to honor those who rest beneath the soil.
It is hear I have witnessed some of the most impressive interpretation of the conflict of war: complete contemplative silence.
These moments have been some of the most provoking and impressive moments I have seen in interpretation. And whether it is above Normandy, Sharpsburg, Grafton, West Virginia, Auschwitz, Dachau, the Arizona, Omdurman, or any of the conflictual sites and cemeteries I have visited, I have seen amazing moments that honor the past and the men and women who lived those moments.
So I offer you, the reader, a moment to reflect on what this single date offers us to remember; the moment that changed a world’s history.
To my father, thank you and to my eldest daughter, Heather, I can not express to you how much it meant to your grandfather that you were born on that date, when his years had been filled with dread in recalling what he had witnessed at Normandy, and how he could celebrate the 37th anniversary of D-Day with your birth and look forward to the day, June 6th, without fear.
In honor to all who sacrificed that day, on both sides. In honor to those who were there and survived, contributing so much. In honor of all their families.
John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Programs