Visiting the war cemetery in Normandy taught Donna Klein that soldiers who are injured or die in battle are not ‘losers’; they are the strongest among us.
I spent six months of the mid-’70s living in Normandy, France, on foreign study. My dad had urged me to tell the older people I met of his military service. Honestly, at age 20, and with everybody’s dad being a WWII veteran, I was not real impressed. Dumb me.
Anyway, this local man at the university heard me say that my dad served on a battleship and was behind a gun at the D-Day invasion. In awe, he told me, “Your father saved my country. It is my obligation to take you to the war beaches.”
That weekend, he picked me up for a nice lunch in his home with his whole family. His poor teen boys were bored out of their minds, but he made them sit there politely. He then packed us all in his tiny car and we drove out to the ocean, those legendary war beaches.
It was winter, cold and windy. No one was there but us. The man’s wife and kids stayed warm in the car. Our first stop: this miniscule museum, just a hole-in-the wall. Right there, in glorious black and white, hung a photo of my dad’s battleship!
Then he walked me out to the edge of those cliffs. The wind ripped through our clothes and we stood in silence. I looked out on the ocean and pictured my teenaged dad scared out of his mind but standing on duty behind those huge guns.
Last stop, the cemetery. He walked me over. Then he said to me, in French of course, “You are back in America. France gave this land to your country in gratitude for saving ours. You are home.”
We stood in that sacred land, every which way seeing perfect lines of stark white grave markers. Again, this was winter, and it was bare and cold, as it really should be for something so monumental.
This day was a high point of my life, a dividing line. Until then, I thought it was just dumb old war stories that everybody’s dad had. But at that moment, I understood.
So, you can imagine the depth of my horror and absolute disgust (yours, too, I am sure!) to hear that President Trump disrespected, actually denigrated, those lost war heroes who died or were injured in battle, according to a recent report in The Atlantic. My dad was honorably discharged for a physical injury during battle. His eardrums were blown out from the guns. Per Trump, he is a “loser.” Trump dismisses my dad’s sacrifice.
I’m speechless. I had to take another look at this Normandy cemetery, located right at the beaches where these brave men lost their lives, to remind myself of the utter depravity of this man’s soul.
May they rest in peace. I hope my beloved dad is, too.
Donna Klein lives in Birmingham. She is a member of Temple Emanu-El.