Memorial Day Memories

Well, yesterday was Memorial Day. Kick off to summer. However, tick tock, tick tock. Countdown to Fourth of July, when summer’s half over. That is how my mother would have looked at the day. I come by my Glass-Half-Empty mentality honestly. To be fair, she wasn’t negative about all things. But when it came to summertime, she simply thought it went by too quickly.

Any more, I think all seasons of the year go by quickly. Time flies even faster as you get older.

Enjoy every day. And I have to tell you that we did, indeed, enjoy our Sunday celebration. The springtime weather has been pretty unpredictable so far, at least in my Glass-Half-Empty mind. A lot of rain (which Glass-Half-Full people would say is good for the crops), and temperatures chilly enough that my heat was still going on in the morning. Yesterday I just turned it off, thereby taking away our thermostat’s option of turning on the heat. It’s almost June, for heaven’s sake. If our thermostat doesn’t like it, it can take it up with Google Home.

But Sunday’s weather was simply beautiful. The sky was blue all day long with not a raincloud in sight. The temperature was a perfect 70 or so. Jen arrived on our doorstep around 10 and she and I made our quick trip to Fort Logan National Cemetery and were home before noon. A short time later, Kaiya, Mylee, and Cole showed up with big smiles on their faces, and their daddy had an even bigger smile because he got a few hours of time to himself. The kids fully intended to spend the day with Play Doh. Because, as you recall, they do love Play Doh…..

Instead, I made lunch for them and they ate it outside, and that’s pretty much where they spent the rest of the day – outside. They caught roly poly bugs, they built a village in the sandbox, they spruced up Papa’s horseshoe pit (if you call adding sand to the pit sprucing it up, and by the way, don’t tell Papa).

And they ate watermelon. And then ate more watermelon. At one point, Jen said she doesn’t think she’s ever seen a single human eat as much watermelon as each of them ate. Kaiya informed me well into her fourth or fifth slice that the first bite of the point of the watermelon slice is the best, because it’s sweeter than the rest. I’m pretty sure there is no science to back that up, but she would not be dissuaded.

While my ribs were roasting in the oven, I made ceviche. I followed my nephew Erik’s recipe in which I cut up tilapia into cubes, added red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and salt and pepper. I then squeezed somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 or 15 limes over the whole dish…..

…..and let it cook….

It was delicious….

When growing up, Mom always made baked beans for any summer gathering. At some point, she gave the assignment to me. In hindsight, I recognize that she was very smart, because she always told me (probably making sure to whisper so that no one else heard) that I made the best baked beans and that’s why she had me make them. Every single time. Given that her beans recipe consisted of a couple of cans of pork and beans, some ketchup, some mustard, some brown sugar, and some worcestershire sauce, I’m pretty sure a 5-year-old could have made them. Nevertheless, I proudly made the beans then, and I proudly made them Sunday to accompany my ribs. No recipe needed.

And, by the way, Kaiya likes a little bit of pie with her whipped cream….

Late in the day, Allen and Emma stopped by to say hi, and to bring a dozen Voodoo Donuts….

At the end of the day, before the kids headed home, we put them in the bathtub to clean up before they put on their pajamas. As you can see, they were just a bit dirty…..

Just a sign of a really good day.

Proud to be an American

My sister Jen requested that for Memorial Day, and in honor of the men and women who have given their life for our freedom, I rerun the blog post I wrote back in 2008 when Bill and I visited Normandy, France, during our European Adventure. That visit will always be one of the most profound experiences in my life, and something I will never forget.

She also asked me why in the world is the beach that was stormed on that rainy June day back in 1944 called Omaha Beach. I, of course, being the astute history scholar that I am, had no idea. So I Googled it. From what I can tell after quick research, no one knows quite for certain how the names Omaha Beach and Utah Beach were chosen. They were code words for the battles. It seems likely that they were chosen because they were easily understood over radio airwaves and easily communicated through Morse Code. Some say that the US Military had noticed that the Germans chose code words that were quite easy to figure out — Operation Sealion for an amphibious assault, for example. Both Omaha and Utah are landlocked, thereby giving no clue to a water ambush. One theory is that they were named after two carpenters — one from Omaha and one from Provo, Utah — who helped build the headquarters for the invasion planners. That seems unlikely to me, but then again, Ike didn’t really keep me posted on his thoughts. There were, in fact, five beaches involved in the June attack — Utah and Omaha (U.S), Gold and Sword (Great Britain), and Juno (Canada). Each country selected the code names for their attack.

The reality that these literally thousands of men who jumped from their boats onto the beach knowing full well that there was a likelihood that they would be killed simply takes my breath away. I am filled with love, honor, respect and gratitude for these men, and for all of the men and women who have served since, and who continue to serve today.

Happy Memorial Day. God bless America.

Here is my 2008 post from Reluctant Traveler…..

D-Day

Sunday, August 3, 2008

After spending the entire day yesterday looking at the various sites of the battles that were fought to liberate France, and eventually to win World War II, as we drove home I asked Bill how he felt. “Pretty proud to be American,” he answered. I knew exactly what he meant.

The day was kind of dreary, one of the few overcast days we’ve had during our entire adventure. It couldn’t quite make up its mind – it would drizzle, then the sun would peak out of clouds. It never quite rained. The weather suited the day, we felt. The weather was overcast too on June 6, 1944.

Traffic was awful. Everyone was on the autostrada getting away for holiday. What should have been an hour-and-a-half drive took us twice that long.

Since we only had a day, we decided to focus on the areas in which America had the impact. As such, we only saw the Canadian cemetery in the distance as we drove by, and the same was true for Sword, Juno, and Gold Beaches, where Great Britain and Canada soldiers came on shore.

Our first stop was just above the little French town of Arromanches, high on the cliffs above the Normandy beaches, where there was a 360 degree theater. The film shown on this circular screen was powerful. The film director intermixed current scenes from the little towns that line the Normandy coast with film taken on June 6, 1944, as our soldiers stormed the beach. There was no dialogue, and the only sounds you heard were the sounds heard by the soldiers as guns fired and planes flew overhead, or the sounds of a peaceful rural French life. The 1944 scenes were graphic, violent, poignant, and awe-inspiring while the current scenes were pretty and colorful and filled with joy. The contrast made a very strong point – the towns around the Normandy beaches owe their freedom from the Nazis to the United States of America and the other allies.

After viewing the film, we got back in our car to drive to the little French town of Longues-sur-Mer. Here we stopped in a small boulangerie and picked up two ham, Gruyere cheese, and tomato sandwiches smeared with good French butter, and two wonderful pastries for dessert. We then drove a few blocks towards the sea, to an area where there were four German bunkers with their guns still intact. These guns had the ability to shoot up to 13 miles. The clear shot the Germans had of the beach was absolutely bone-chilling.

We ate our lunch at one of the little picnic tables they had set up for that purpose. As we ate, we tried to figure out how the French bakers can get the baguette so perfectly crusty on the outside and so chewy and delicious on the inside. It’s a reality I will continue to ponder.

Our next stop was Omaha Beach, and the American cemetery. We walked through the museum, which gave a lot of information about the events leading up to the war, and even more interesting (at least to me), the events and discussions that went on during the days just prior to D-Day. While I could always imagine how much thought went into planning a battle such as that fought on June 6, I had never really realized that the Americans had tricked the Germans into thinking a bigger battle was going to be fought elsewhere. The Americans used false communications, fake airplanes, and other kinds of trickery that helped catch the Germans off guard and lulled them into thinking that, even as our soldiers were storming the beaches, this battle was not to be taken that seriously.

After visiting the museum, we walked down to the beach. I think of my entire day, this was what moved me the most. The beach area from where the water meets the shore to where the soldiers would have some trees or shrubs for protection was easily the length of two football fields. (And speaking of football, the next time I hear a sports announcer refer to a football player as a hero, I think I will put a rock through my television screen. Football players are not heroes. Twenty-year-old boys climbing off boats carrying hundreds of pounds on their backs, running to the shore, and then crawling on their bellies for 200 yards or more while getting shot at are heroes.)

After looking at the beach, we walked back up to the cemetery. Of course, the sight of all of these white marble crosses and stars of David is poignant beyond belief. Each marker has the name and rank of the soldier and the day he died. I always forget that the battles of Normandy went on not just for this one day, but for months. There are a number of markers that bear no name, but say only God knows who he is. Very sad.

 

We left the cemetery and drove a bit further up the coast to Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument. We decided to stop here at the last moment, and I’m glad we did. Pointe du Hoc was an area where, early on June 6, 300 US Army Rangers climbed the cliffs of this heavily German-fortified position to secure it for the allies. They were successful, but only after losing over two-thirds of the soldiers. Out of the 300 Rangers, 95 survived. The area was heavily bombed and the huge holes where the bombs had dropped are amazing and a somber reminder of the power of those bombs.

craters

Our last stop of the day was in Ste Mere Eglise, the first town to be liberated by the American soldiers on June 7, 1944. This pretty little town is in the general area where the 101st and 82nd Airborne soldiers dropped early on June 6 to land behind enemy lines. If you saw the movie The Longest Day, you will recall that one soldier got caught on the church steeple and played dead for a number of hours while German soldiers took shots at him. As he hung helplessly, he watched the ensuing battle below. The people of this town, to this day, have American flags hanging and have a parachute with a dummy hanging on the steeple of the church in commemoration.

It had been a long and somber day, but one that made me very proud.

This post linked to the GRAND Social.

In Memory…..

Ft. Logan flagsAs we do every year when we’re in town for Memorial Day, Bill and I drove out to Fort Logan National Cemetery on Saturday to leave flowers at the gravestone of my mom and dad. I always try to go on Saturday or Sunday as opposed to Memorial Day Monday, because there is some sort of ceremony on Monday that draws throngs. I’m sure the ceremony is lovely, but I simply don’t feel the need to attend.

Apparently, in the past, if we’ve gone on Saturday, it’s been later in the day. This past Saturday we went quite early in the morning – not even yet 9 o’clock – because I had a packed schedule both Saturday and Sunday. We were surprised to find that there was a multitude of cars lining the narrow road that runs through the cemetery. Lo, and behold, the Boy Scouts were out putting the flags by the gravestones. And they apparently all brought their friends and relatives, because the area was packed. It’s ok, however, because when each gravestone is marked by an American flag, it’s quite lovely and a wonderful tribute to each of those men and women (and their spouses) who served our country in the Armed Forces. It’s actually breathtaking.

We were lucky, because the rain that had fallen all night long was finished, and the sun actually came out for a bit. My parents are buriedDad grave in a national cemetery, so one must be on the ball in order to find the grave as they all look alike. I have a system. I drive until I see a certain stand of evergreen trees. I then search for the grave of a Mr. Henry C. Fisher, a man I never knew but whose grave is at the end of the row in which Mom and Dad’s grave is located. Please God, I hope Mr. Fisher’s family never sees fit to move the grave or I will never find my parents’ stone again.

Fort Logan is likely where Bill and I will be buried as Bill is a veteran who served in the Army in the 1960s. While I love the old cemeteries with the big trees and the massive headstones and statuary, I never regret that my parents are at Fort Logan or that we will be there at some point. The national cemeteries are so pretty and so well-tended. I do regret that I Mom's gravecan’t plant a peony bush like I could at a regular cemetery, but the fact that I never have to wonder if their grave is well-tended makes it worth it.

In my blog post last year, I talked about going to the cemetery every year in Columbus with my mom to leave flowers on the graves of her loved ones. It’s really why I go to Fort Logan every year. I know that Mom and Dad are not there, but I know wherever they are, they appreciate that I honor them in this way each year just as they did with their ancestors. I always laugh because many people bring out artificial flowers to leave by the graves, and I totally understand why. I’m well aware that the kris flowers ft loganflowers I leave will likely be dead in just a few days. Nevertheless, I know my mother would haunt me if I left her artificial flowers. In fact, one year, shortly after she died, Bill made a beautiful wreath using artificial flowers in patriotic colors that we left there, and it weighed heavy on my heart for a long time. Sorry Mom.

I hope you all enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) the Memorial Day holiday, which unofficially kicks off summer (and hopefully signals an eventual end to constant rainfall on Colorado’s front range). I’m glad we have such a beautiful and solemn occasion to start off the summer.