Me, then and now
Many people watch D-Day ceremonies. Some of the brave, who were lucky to survive, share these ceremonies with us, aged, in wheelchairs, or supported by their siblings, children or relatives. I always wondered why the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. was erected before the World War II Memorial. Perhaps because of the collective guilt to erase the public perception that those who came back from Vietnam wounded but alive were considered less worthy, as that war had been made so unpopular, not in the least by the repulsive Hanoi Jane. But that Vietnam Memorial represents exactly the same spirit as the World War II memorial: it’s for those who died in the fight for liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the freedom of the human spirit and initiative as opposed to totalitarian might and communism.
I am not American, but I considered fighting communism in Asia as worthwhile as fighting Nazidom and Japanese imperialism during World War II. And what would have happened if the Allies had been unable to defeat the Nazis in Europe? Or if they had been unable to stop the Russians at the Berlin Wall? Would communism not have been all over Europe keeping it in a much broader grip of impoverished and mowed-down nations? Would the Jewish population still exist?
I was 8, playing some feeble notes on the piano at my piano teacher’s house when a man came in with an orange pamphlet (the color of the Dutch royalty) stating that the Allied Forces had invaded France at Normandy. I still feel her embrace, screaming, “Johnny, we are going to be free.” Well, that was June 6, 1944. It took a bitter year of bombs falling, Nazi cruelty, executions, razzias, the pursuit of Jews, a horrific hunger winter with deep-freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls before the Allied forces finally reached us and chased the Nazis out the door on May 5, 1945.
German soldiers going home, defeated.
Today we commemorate the young and the brave who that last year fought their way through the foothills of the Ardennes, the battle of the Bulge, who died in the “Bridge too Far,” the failed attempt by General Montgomery to break through the Nazi lines in Arnhem at the Rhine, who struggled from Belgium to The Netherlands to lift us from five years of tyranny, fear, misery and murder.
This time, my piano teacher could embrace me for real. Her street hung out the red, white and blue flags and orange banners; stalls rose on the sidewalks with food dropped by allied bombers in the nearby tulip fields and meadows; people danced in the streets and embraced the dapper allied soldiers, Americans, Brits, and Canadians. Bands with trumpets and drums marched, making loud music, a festivity I will never forget. Our Royal family returned home from exile in Canada. No more fears of bombs dropping on or near our house, windows shattered, fighter planes soaring through the sky and downed in the nearby wood, eating tulip bread, nettles, or turnips. No more sirens in the night and friends being rounded up and taken away.
“Bombers” dropping food bags
You have to have lived through the opposite to feel what “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” really means. Personally, I find that a good deal of today’s politicians on the left in the West have forgotten what tyranny, communism and socialism, and lack of freedom represents. D-Day is a day to remember that freedom and the pursuit of happiness is a precious gift the brave and the young who fell for it handed us and we should treasure this gift to the fullest. Any doctrine of socialism, communism and totalitarian government runs counter that human right. Such doctrines are creeping back into our world and endanger our freedom-loving society and would destroy it again if not contained.
Marine Corps War Memorial (also called the Iwo Jima Memorial)D-Day is also to remember the Asian war and the terrible loss of American lives fighting for freedom over there.
Celebrations in Holland in May 1945, almost a year after D-Day.
I hope that today’s schools in the West teach the value of D-Day. But what one sees and hears in the media and on the streets, I’m not sure if our “millennials” and future leaders, and a good deal of today’s “loudspeakers,” acquire the wisdom of D-Day, or exude it to prevent that this awful history repeats itself. I want to be optimistic but I can’t say I am.
What do I remember of D-Day in Holland? I was 8 in 1944. My nanny came into my playroom and said, “Johnny, we’re going to be freed!” My piano teacher embraced me, hugged me and kissed me on my cheeks. Well, actually we were not there yet. The clandestine radio we listened to had been too optimistic. Strong Nazi resistance in France and Belgium (the “Battle of the Bulge” in the Ardennes, General Montgomery’s (“Monty”) failed assault on Arnhem close to where my grandparents – and Audrey Hepburn and her mother, my Aunt Ella – lived) delayed our liberation by one year, and introduced the worst hunger winter in Holland with heaps of snow and bitter cold during which thousands of people perished.
A mother – like mine – struggling to find food at farms.
Many brave young allied soldiers lost their life trying to break through the Nazi defenses and finally did.
For me D-Day came a year later, May 5, 1945. Hundreds and hundreds of horse-driven wagons with German soldiers, faces drawn, moving back to Germany over the roads. Among them poor-looking kids, forced to follow orders, many to their death, like so many of our brave liberators, the essential difference being that the Nazis came to conquer and torture, and the allies came to free us from them, surely a more purposeful mission.
Allied paratroopers coming to liberate Holland
Then hordes of Nazi sympathizers were rounded up and marched through the streets, their hair shaved off, shame and despair on their faces, imprisoned for many years.
Hundreds of low-flying planes dropping bags of food on empty meadows and tulip fields. Cans with sausages we hardly remembered eating before.
Trucks with American black drivers, whose faces we could not see through their windows, and allied forces moving up with German captives arms in the air.
Five years of horrible war gone by that started with bombs on Schiphol airport in May 1940, the explosions we heard and their clouds we saw rising into the sky from our backyard, years that never seemed to end. Having to walk to school, often on wooden shoes because our parents could not get proper shoes, sometimes through sticky snow that clogged underneath your soles so that you could not walk anymore. Soup kitchens in our school, where we hardly learned anything because of the constant fear for the occupier. Bombs falling left and right, chasing us into the cellar or bomb-shelters, huddling together in the cold. Dog fights in the sky with bombers and fighter planes getting shot to pieces and falling to earth, their men sometimes parachuting down to be shot death by cruel Nazi soldiers, laughing at the fun.
But their fun did not last. When the Nazis were gone, we celebrated in the streets. Eating pancakes at long wooden tables stretching out street-long along the sidewalks in bright sunshine. Everything was colored orange. Queen Wilhelmina, Princess Juliana and Prince Bernard and their children returning from their exile in Canada to Soestdijk. The Red Blue and White Dutch flag flying all over. Music, dancing, happy people.
Just one nasty psychopath, Adolph Hitler, who was able to inflict this unmeasurable misery on all of us and his own people as well. Cowardly dead by suicide.
It’s good to commemorate D-Day. The best speech to do so was by Ronald Reagan in Normandy on June 6, 1984, when referring to those brave men and women he said,” …let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.” Seventy years later, the younger generations do well to dig into this history. But history has a way to repeat itself: many wars followed, perhaps not on a worldly scale, but large enough to worry us all. People are still suffering from dictators and psychopaths and the new normal of intolerant Islam. Jews are still being persecuted. Our United Nations Assembly, established with so much hope and pomp in 1944 to prevent all this from reoccurring, has turned into a useless debating club.
Yes, D-Day is a day to remember, and to make good speeches for TV. But when will we stop fighting each other? It’s inherent to human kind. So don’t hold your breath.
PS: All pictures have been drawn from Dutch websites, archives and Wikipedia. Specific accreditation proved impossible.