"My War" as Told Through the Art and Letters of Tracy Sugarman

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When you are a child, the first rule of picking out a book is, “does it have good pictures?" If the answer is yes, then you open the book and read it. It the answer is no, you put the book back on its shelf. Why read a book with no illustrations?

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Then life catches up on you, you grow up and and have to realize that books aren’t all about pictures. Before you know it, all of your “adult” books just have words in them - long, sophisticated words that little children wouldn’t dream of knowing. And if they could, they would dismiss them as nightmares.

That’s pretty much what happened to me. My shelves (though I love each and every one in them), are nonetheless filled with picture-less books with words starting at 5 syllables each. They are long, sometimes dry, and full of lots of and lots of information. I read them and enjoy. I don’t think about the fact that they are picture-less.

However, once in a blue moon - when the unicorns and werewolves come out and play together- the 6 year old in me pops up and demands that I find books with good pictures in them.

That’s how I stumbled on this particular book, My War by Tracy Sugarman.

“disaster in the channel”

About a two years ago, I was visiting my brother in Florida and happened to stop by the Sanford renowned book shop, “Maya Books and Music.” It was completely charming, and I would have been happy walking away with half the store. But since my pocketbook groaned and declared otherwise, I decided I would have to be satisfied with this little find.

The moment I opened its cover, I was struck by the gorgeous watercolors and sketched images liberally distributed throughout the pages: simple pencil portraits of servicemen the author had encountered, dramatic scenes from a storm in the English channel, friend Tommy doing laundry near a windowsill of daffodils.

“Tommy and his laundry, with daffodils”

Alongside these images were detailed letters to his wife, "darling Junie," narrating his life as a young ensign in the US Navy the months surrounding the greatest naval invasion in history, "D-Day," and interspersed with his retrospective commentary years later when he would publish his drawings and letters.

The impetus for “My War” came from a parting gift Sugarman’s wife, June, gave him as he was preparing to go overseas in January, 1944.

“It’s a little something for both us us.”

I edged open the package and peered inside. Sketch pads! And pens and a tin of watercolors!

“How wonderful! You’re too much, Junie. But those are for me. "What’s for you?”

… Very quietly she said, “For me, it’s your sanity. And maybe some pictures so that I’ll know you’re alive and kicking! Hold on real tight, darling. You’ll be back and I’ll be waiting.”

“Junie” did wait, and hundreds of letters later, thousands of miles traveled, a great Naval Invasion, and a World War, Sugarman came home. At end of the book, Sugarman regrets that he was not able to save all the “funny, wonderful, life-sustaining letters” he received from his wife the months and months he was away. “They were read and reread, folded and unfolded until tattered, and finally abandoned when the next sea-soiled envelope arrived.” But thanks to Junie’s care, his did, giving us this thought-provoking and informative narration.

Tracy and his wife june “a summer day at ocean view”

In his preface, Sugarman says,

“I leave it to the historians to chronicle the strategies and dynamics of the global conflict of World War II. With the perspective gained from more than half a century of scholarship, they delineate the battle lines and campaigns, the tactics and struggles of the world I inherited after Pearl Harbor. They know a great deal about “the war”. But they didn’t live my war.

It is my conviction that ever sailor and soldier in World War II fought his own war. It was a struggle that only sometimes permitted him to see the enemy. But as he stared into the darkness from his ship or beachhead, he very soon began to see himself. So new to manhood, he watched himself grow through fear and loneliness, boredom and exaltation. It was an inescapable odyssey for each of us who served.”

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And such an odyssey he paints! Beautiful and haunting at times:

There are those long twilights here now. The sky is billions of miles away, and you feel very much alone. The water stretches away forever -no waves, hardly a ripple. The ships sit alone in the water, each in its own pool of aloneness. The sky arcs up from millions of empty miles beyond the shore. And straight up there’s nothing. It’s big and empty and very quiet. The sun goes away, and it’s still too big, too light. The emptiness comes off the water and crawls right into you.” (July 1 - T. B.Robertson)

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At other times, he writes the raw and truthful: realities of the high price war takes on youth and innocence:

The inconsistency between the American fighter and the American sailor or soldier is staggering. I remember so well how inadequate I felt when I tried to tell you how wonderful those guys were on the beaches last June. I wouldn’t take back a word of it. I feel now as I did then, but coupled with it goes a feeling of wonder. Wonder as to how such marvelous fighters can be such rotten people… Their conceit, their arrogance, their obscenity and vulgarity in front of anyone shames the life out of me… They never apologize for our own shortcomings, and get a majestic sort of pleasure in making the English painfully aware of theirs. In every conversation the “biggest,” the “newest,” the “cleanest,” the “fastest,” the most and the best of the good, the least of the bad… Individually, I would do anything for any of them. But as a group they are the antithesis of anything I desire. I don’t want to close our eyes and pretend the bad and the wrong and the ignorant aren’t there, darling. Those things are real, and too important to both of us. I want only to reject their standards and their values. They revolt and shock me. (Feb 23, 1945)

In his retrospective commentary, Sugarman adds some thoughts to the harsh words he spoke about the American Serviceman back in 1945:

One of my “kids”

One of my “kids”

There are unexpected surprises that one finds when unearthing an intimate record from one’s youth. The most astonishing to me are those letters from the war that describe my perceptions of many of the men with whom I served. They swing from admiration to revulsion, from pride to anger, from pleasure in their company to embarrassment at their provincialism and lack of sensitivity, yet older is not wiser… It is hard to remember how young we all were when we went of to war in 1944. Most of the sailors on my ships really were the “kids” I wrote of in my letter to June. Put to the test of physical courage, they were remarkable, often accomplishing the seemingly impossible and usually with pride and good humor. When off on liberty or leave in a war-torn England, however, their ignorance and immaturity often displayed itself in ways that were embarrassing to their fellow servicemen and arrogantly hostile to our hosts.

For the most part, these were kids who had never been away from home, who were fearful and tried to cover it with bravado, who had little or no sense of history, and often showed that they resented being there. American education had ill prepared them to understand how uniquely fortunate their own country was due to geography, not because we were born to be “number one in everything.” Nor did most of them understand how indebted we were to those who fought alone for so many years, although the shattered homes and churches and towns around them bore the dreadful testimony to the high price that the English had paid for all our freedom. For too many of the Americans, this war was not really our war. It was their war, “and if it wasn’t for us Yanks, they’d sure as hell lose it.” Thankfully, as a nation, we are a long way from the provincialism that was so rampant in many Americans in World War Two. -Sugarman

But even though he had hard words to say about the things he saw, he never once took for granted the sacrifice these boys were making.

“Young men dying seems to me, somehow, the greatest tragedy. The acceptance of death has been something new to me. And I know that death serves only to accentuate the love of living we both share so dearly. The bridge between is so complete, so final that you finally stop thinking of its terrible proximity and cling rather to pulsating life. Your laughter is a little quicker, your thinking is a little less shallow, your energies and ambitions fired with a new urgency.” (August 17)


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For our heart’s sake, not all his letters dwell on the hardships and seriousness of the job he and millions of the boys were experiencing… there are plenty of carefree and amusing accounts, including one which makes you marvel at the serendipitous happenings that sometimes occur in war:

“I had been napping, riding out the foul weather that had stopped all our work off the Robertson, when Mike, the stewards’ mate, excitedly came in my room and shook my shoulder. “Mr. Sweetenin’! Wake up! There’s a Lieutenant Sugarman looking for an Ensign Sugarman. Is you he?” I stared at the grinning sailor and bolted out of bed and raced up to Operations. The signalman pointed to the LST lying off our bow. "Signal came from there, sir.”

I stared across the water at the ship, rolling wildly in the windy chop of the Channel. Marvin here? It was too impossible to believe. But how marvelous if it were so! My older brother had been my role model in so many ways, and I had been the best man at his wedding. But I hadn’t seen him now in over a year. When I was getting my commission at Notre Dame, Marv and his wife, Roni, were stationed in Alabama… In my last letter from the folks, they were rejoicing that Roni was expecting a baby, their first grandchild. But not a word that Marvin might be shipping out to Europe. And now a few hundred yards away, he was coming to Utah Beach! I could just imagine the folks’ faces when they got the news!"

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In his letter to Junie, he related their first “meeting.”

The weather got more and more wild, and there was no way of getting there. So tonight I called their ship by radio and summoned Marv to the radio! Although strictly against regulation, it was too great a temptation. And honey, he sounded so wonderful! The magic of a familiar voice from home is something so good it can’t be described. Imagine, angel, having Marv right here on my beach! … The conversation was pretty crazy, both of us were so damn excited.

[Sugarman] “Hey, I understand you’re gonna be a father! Over.”

[Marv] “You’re yelling me! Over.”

[Sugarman] "I didn’t think you had it in you. Over.”

[Marv] “Are you kidding! Over.”

[Sugarman] I think it’s wonderful! You got a bottle of Scotch? Over.”

[Marv] “Lots of it. Get the hell over here! Over.”

It’s easy to see in their delighted faces the most happy surprise of being reunited with a bit of home on the beachheads of Normandy.


Another time, he relates an amusing incident that happened shortly before he was shipped overseas to England:

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“Late in January 1944, orders came directing our whole outfit to move out. We had all trained exhaustively and were eager to get to the English staging areas…. As we were packing to leave the base, unsettling new orders arrived.”

Sugarman and two other Ensigns, Tommy Wolfe and “Andy” Anderson, were detached to train a new batch of sailors soon to be arriving. Flattered but disappointed, he resigned himself to the fact it’d be a few months more before going over. However 3 days later, they received new orders: “Three officers and thirty men were to proceed immediately to Long Beach, NY to await transport to the ETO.” There was just one hitch… their new crew turned out to be more in the style of the Dirty Dozen rather then the “ship, shape, and bristol fashion” ones they’d just said the adieus to.

Sugarman wasn’t so sure. He’d grown up in Syracuse, NY and the only “tough characters” he was used to were the ones he met on the Lacrosse field and shook hands with at the end of each match.

“I finally took my buddy and fellow ensign, Tommy Wolfe, aside. A tough, street-smart New York kid himself, Tommy looked and sounded like Jimmy Cagney. He grinned at my concern about our new crews. “Relax, Sug. This is the biggest break these characters could dream of. If we’re tough and fair with them, they’ll work out great. I grew up with guys like them.””

Just as Tommy said, it turned out to be okay. “But I wondered how, at twenty-two, I could make these men believe I was tough enough to take them to war.”

On the train north to New York, June rode with the released prisoners. At the first opportunity, I took her aside. “Are you okay? They giving you a hard time?” She laughed. “They’re kids,” she said. “They’re tough kids. I wouldn’t want to be the Germans when they hit the beach. But they’re really very sweet.” I stared at my wife. “Sweet?” “Well,” she said, grinning, “they’re very sweet to me.””


The book is rich and full. The layers of depth and insight that comes from a mere 23 year-old are striking and cause you to go back and re-read the thoughts he penned to his wife during the tempestuous 18 months he spent overseas. 18 months that changed his life and the lives of millions around the world.

I do think have left me unscathed physically and mentally. I do not feel “older thank my years” nor “hardened by the crucible of fire.” Nothing I’ve seen has changed anything fundamentally in me. Possibly my resolution has sharpened some, my enthusiasm slightly tempered, my tolerance and understanding somewhat broadened. I think that’s happened to most of us in some degrees. Being here, there has had to be an assertion of self and independent spirit. If these are bounded by humility and a decent memory of what actually was, then it should be a healthy influence, not corruption. -Tracy Sugarman

Thank you for the lessons, Mr. Sugarman. And thank you for the pictures.


All quotes and images are taken from the book, “My War'“ by Tracy Sugarman


A Story for the Coast Guard Birthday

PC. Jocelyne Paris

PC. Jocelyne Paris

Happy 228th birthday to the United States Coast Guard, and this very darling Combat Coastie, Jack.

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On June 6th, 1944, Jack had a rope tied around his waist as he swam the chilly waters of the D-Day Beaches, collecting dead and wounded soldiers. His unit, Rescue Flotilla One, managed to save more 400 men on that day.

“The current was going 15 to 20 mph coming out of the North Sea. That channel had a terrible current and you’d go to reach for a soldier and tried to save him and they’d wash away from you... We did get a hold of some of them,” added Hamlin. “But they’d either have an arm gone or half their face blown off. It was the sickest thing you ever wanted to see. Pulling them out of the water was the worst thing in the world." / Hamlin and his fellow rescuers braved 48-degree water, jumping in to haul out soldiers and airmen. By the time Rescue Flotilla One was decommissioned in December 1944 they had saved 1,438 souls" [excerpt from Coast Guard Compass: Official Blog of the US Coast Guard.]

Two years ago, Jack (then 95) thought it would be a good idea to go sky diving. Now age 97, he hasn't lost one bit of charm and continues to be a stellar example of the courage of the US Coast Guard.


Support Operation Meatball

The Boy Who Drew Sunken Spanish Galleons

A few months ago we were driving through beautiful southern California, up and down winding roads, oohing and awing over the picturesque scene. Our GPS beeped and we slowed down, looking at the mailbox numbers for our destination (we've been known to knock on the wrong door before).Then we saw it - a hand-painted signpost of the 101st Screaming Eagle crowned by the word: Airborne. No mistaking... we were at the right spot. 


When Bill Galbraith was a young boy, he once got into trouble in art class for drawing a sunken Spanish Galleon surrounded by the vast ocean, instead of the modernist depiction of the ocean-life the teacher had expected. The teacher marked up his picture, and in return he called her a nasty name.

The years went on and this imaginative young boy grew up (as all children seem to), but he didn't lose any of his creative or resourceful characteristics - though there was certainly a good dash of mischievousness in the mix. All this would soon come to play an unexpected part in his life when he found himself lying in a hospital in England, his future in question, after being seriously wounded in the leg and shoulder during the fighting around Eindhoven, Netherlands. 

Paratrooper to the core, Bill had jumped with the 101st into Normandy during the wee hours of June 6, 1944. The fighting had been awful, but he made it out in one piece and was sent back to England with his unit for more training. When September 17th rolled around, he made his second combat jump into Holland for Operation Market-Garden. Unfortunately Market-Garden did not go as planned... but Bill wasn't around long enough to find out. On the 18th, during some street fighting near Eindhoven, he was hit in the leg by shrapnel from one of the infamous 88's. Crawling around the doorway of a house, he tried to see where the shooting was coming from, hoping to put a stop to it. At that moment he was hit again, this time in the shoulder. Falling back, helpless, he hit against the door of the house. The door suddenly opened, and a pair of strong Dutch hands dragged him in to safety. 

Bill's wounds were nearly fatal for him. If it wasn't for a recent medical discovery, he would have lost his leg and been an invalid for life. Even with this blessing, however, it still took three years of intensive operations and rehabilitation treatments to fully heal his wounds. The process was long and painful, and at times no doubt seemed hopeless. But this is where the tenacious spirit of the little boy who drew sunken Spanish Galleons for school played a part.


A few months ago when we were in California for the Iwo Jima Reunion, we realized we were only a few short hours away from our dear and lovely friend, Mr. Galbraith. After calling him up with short, short notice, we stopped by for a visit. His drive-in was unmistakable with the Screaming Eagle he had painted on a post by the mailbox. It made us smile. He had told us about the wonderful eagle that protected his home, but it was something else to see it in person. His last combat jump might have been in 1944, but he was still a Paratrooper!

During our visit, he talked with us about his life over the years, the bonny Scotch/Irish war-bride he brought home to America, his magnificent paintings and drawings (it was no surprise to see countless paintings of ships sailing in fierce gales, surrounded by brilliant Screaming Eagles!), and walked us down memory lane as we poured through a scrapbook of photos and stories from WWII to his paratrooper reunions in later years. I'll tell you this, there is nothing quite like going through an old scrapbook and listening to the stories about each person, place, or event in the photos. We laughed at the funny stories, awed over the sweet stories, and got misty eyed as he showed us the pictures of his best friends who were lost. A lifetime of stories collected so neatly into one book. 

Of all his fantastic stories, one that continues to stick out is what happened while he was in the hospital. Determined not to be overcome and unwilling to live in a constant foggy state from pain-relieving drugs, this imaginative boy turned United State Paratrooper decided to focus his mental energy on learning poetry. Line by line, day by day, month by month. Replacing pain with verse. Poetry of all sorts, but specifically the works of Robert Service, "Bard of the Yukon." And it worked! Between drawing wonderful pictures and memorizing glorious poems, these mental exercises did not leave much time to dwell on the pain. In mid-1947, he was released from the hospital, and the wounds became a thing of the past. However, 73 years later, he can still recite those verses he learned, whiling the hours away with his hospital chums. Recite *perfectly* I should add. As we sat in his living room, listening to him repeat from memory such classics as Dangerous Dan McGrew, The Cremation of Sam McGee, and The Sourdough Story, we couldn't but pick our jaws off the floor at his impeccable memory for verse. 


There are so many lessons to learn from our dear friend Mr. Galbraith. His devotion to his fellow paratroopers was unquestionable. Never once was it "me" or "I." It was always, "we" or "they." "They were the brave ones." "We were like brothers." The camaraderie and loyalty between these men is surely one-of-a-kind.  

His love for his wife is another lesson for us. An Irish girl, living in Scotland, he persuaded her to come to the unknowns of America and be his wife. Married 65 years with 10 beautiful children (he beat our family by 2!), it's a beautiful story for another time. 

But I think the lesson from this story - the story of Spanish Galleons and Poetry - is that the little boy whose imagination ran away with him in art class later had the impetus to stretch his mental strength and put his mind to work, rather than take an easy way out with pain-medications. The pain went away, but the treasures he has stored in his memory have lasted for close to 75 years. How important is this mental battle! And the rewards reaped afterward are ever so wonderful.

June 6, 1944

On this day every year our thoughts and hearts are full as we think of the brave lads who took part in the invasion of Normandy. We have many friends who landed on the beaches, scaled the cliffs, or were dropped in by C-47 all in the early hours of June 6, 1944 and are now here to tell the tales of bravery and sacrifice of their comrades. 

But we also have many friends who did not make it. Some of them went through months of hard training only to be killed moments after landing. They are now buried in the beautiful yet somber cemetery off of Omaha Beach. This may seem strange to say since we are separated by 72 years, a full lifetime. But reading of their stories, learning about their lives growing up on the farms out west or in the emigrant-crammed cities of the east we feel like we know them; that they are our friends. When we talk to the men that were right beside them as they took the bullet that would put a gold star in a mother's window, we feel like we have lost a childhood friend. 

Tears come to our eyes as we realize the only son of an emigrant family won't come back to carry on the family name in the land of opportunity that his parents dreamed about all their lives. Handsome Frank Draper, brothers Bedford and Raymond Hoback, and 17 other friends from the same small town in Virginia, all killed in the early hours of DDay. They never knew us, but we know them. They were our friends, and we will never forget them because their names are etched in our minds. 

D-DAY is a solemn day, but also a joyous day. Because of the sacrifices made that day, giving the allies a foothold in France, the hope and freedom of all of Europe was secured.

"Oh, When The 'Tanks' Come Marching In!"

In 1917, General George S. Patton said, “I feel sure that tanks in some form will play a part in all future wars.” With that statement, the history of modern cavalry of the 20th and 21st century was ushered in. For me, tank warfare is an incredibly fascinating subject. I don’t pretend to know a single thing about their technicalities, but tank combats such as the Battle of Cambrai (1917) and Operation Goodwood (1944) do not fail to captivate me.

These monsters are so huge and so full of power that one cannot but be overwhelmed by their tremendous strength. The sheer magnitude of how the beast of the machine moves is behemoth-like. Standing next to these mighty giants, I was really able to understand the strength they wielded. You could hear them releasing noises that could be termed purring, but would be more accurately described as growling. 

The treads are enormous and would crush you if you even thought about coming near it;  and that is not even getting into their firing powers. Let me just say, standing next to a tank with its engine running, ready to move, is nothing like looking at a tank that is on display. There can be no comparison.

For almost any little boy out there, or little girl who enjoys little boy things like tanks and jeeps too, the moment a tank enters the scene, the affect is similar to that which Mr. Toad of Wind in the Willows experiences when he sees a red motor car. The eyes go round in circles, the heart starts pumping, and the phrase ‘It was big, it was red, it was be-autiful..." comes to mind. Only these tanks were far more massive and an ominous olive green.

I'm sure there were many little boys who felt the same on June 6, 1944, as tank after tank rolled into the town square following the liberation of St. Marie du Mont by the 101st Airborne that morning. After years of hard oppression under the Nazi regime, when at any moment, father, brother, mother or sister might be taken out and brutally murdered, rescue had finally come! Not just rescue, but liberation by the "angels" of the air, and the "behemoths" of the ground! 

On June 6, 2014, 70 years later to the day, the tanks came rolling in again. With the grandchildren of those who had been liberated, with the veterans who had come to liberate, and with those who had come to honor, hundreds and thousands of people stood cheering, laughing, waving, and clapping. The behemoths were back!

They kept coming and coming and coming. I lost count there were so many. They would each in turn slowly roll up, pause for a few moments, and then move ahead, making room for the next. They were massive, they were loud, and like all the others, I couldn't take my eyes off them.

It was the closest thing I think I could ever get to being there on liberation day. 

Monsieur Renaud's Dedication of the Allied Airborne Monument

Over the course of the 70th anniversary of DDay in Normandy, my sisters and brothers and I were able to participate in many ceremonies honoring the men of D'Day. None left such an impact on us as the unveiling of the Allied Airborne Monument in St. Mere Eglise. 

The Monument to the Allied Airborne which liberated the town of St. Mere Eglise on June 6th, 1944.

The massive granite monument itself is quite striking. I was nearly moved to tears looking at the sheer number of killed and wounded. But it was the dedication that had the most powerful affect. Given by Monsieur Maurice Renaud, President of the AVA (Friends of American Veterans), it was in its entirety a most comprehensive expression of gratitude as he spoke for all of the people of St. Mere Eglise. Indeed, Monsieur Renaud's words even reckoned back to the speech President Ronald Reagan gave at Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of DDay, paying special attention to the importance of the soldiers' sacrifice. 

Monsieur Renaud said, “We chose to engrave the numbers of their casualties on on this monument because it illustrates the amount of courage and sacrifice of these elite soldiers. This monument is more than a slab of granite etched with military insignias and the numbers of killed and wounded soldiers. It is the reaffirmation of a promise. That promise is simple. NEVER FORGET. Never is a big word. It is infinite. In so being , it is also eternal, like the Airborne spirit.

Monsieur Maurice Renaud (right). Photo credit: http://www.avanormandie.org

Monsieur Renaud's passion and gratitude is better understood in the context of his family. He comes from a legacy of honor and service, demonstrated by and passed on to him by his parents. 

Madame Simone Renaud "Mother of Normandie".

His mother, Madame Simone Renaud, is known at the "The Mother of Normandy." She made it her mission to identity and care for the graves of the fallen America soldiers. A documentary film was made about her life, and she is deeply loved by thousands of American mothers, daughters, wives, and sweethearts. 

Monsieur Alexandre Renaud, Mayor of St. Mere Eglise (centre left)

His father, Monsieur Alexandre Renaud was the Mayor of St. Mere Eglise at the time of the invasion. Following the liberation of St. Mere Eglise by the paratroopers, he wrote a letter to General Charles de Gaulle speaking of the bravery of the Americans and asking, “If it would be possible to solicit General de Gaulle, who knows what bravery means, to give to these brave soldiers, who first of all, defeated the Germans on French soil, the Citation which gives them the right to wear on their uniform the French Fourragere. I believe that their sacrifice will feel lighter to them if they get the right to put on their regiment flag this sign of the French gratitude. In their coming battles, these paratroopers will fight with even more bravery with pride to be the airborne troops which France distinguished as: 'Bravest among the Brave.'”

During the ceremony, the square was packed with thousands of people, all there to honor the Allied Paratroopers.

As he concluded his dedication, Monsieur Renaud spoke a few words which perfectly summed up the entire purpose of our family's trip: “A day will soon come when no one who fought in the battle of Normandy will be among us. At some point after that, no one who has even a personal connection to the Liberation will be here to speak as a firsthand witness. Today, we immortalize the bravest of the brave; The Paratroopers, who paid for our freedom, our future, with their lives; seventy years ago. As the monument says: ‘They gave all of their tomorrows so we could have our today.'"

Please click through these links below and read M. Renaud's entire dedication speech as well as the letter his father sent General Charles de Gaulle. They are well worth your time. 

http://www.avanormandie.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Discours-Anglais.pdf

http://jumpcommander.com/airborne/?p=131

Brothers: Herb and Ed Griffin

Right to left: Liberty Phillips, Jubilee Phillips, Herb Griffin, Ed Griffin, and Faith Phillips

One of the most delightful experiences I (Jubilee) have had while in Normandy was meeting Mr. Herb and Ed Griffin, brothers and both veterans of the Second World War. Mr. Herb Griffin landed at Utah Beach on D+10. Despite having been taken, the beach still had many un-detonated mines. As one of the 79th Infantry Division, Mr. Griffin helped to take Cherbourg. Shortly after the liberation, he was badly injured in the arm by an 88 and was sent to a hospital in England for recovery. Mr. Ed Griffin did not land in Normandy because he was too young at the time (he was two years junior of his brother), but served later on in the war. 

Herb Griffin as an 18 year old soldier.

Mr. Herb Griffin had always wanted to return to Normandy, but never had the opportunity until an unlikely meeting with the fire department when they rescued him after he became unconscious in church. On the way to the hospital, they started talking about his war experiences and a special bond grew between veteran and firefighters. The providential meeting ended up with the firemen raising enough money to send not only Herb, but also his brother Ed, back for the first time to the beach he landed on 70 years ago. 

Mr. Griffin and I listen to "It Had To Be You", sung by Faith Phillips

It was simply wonderful to get to meet them. Faith offered to sing a song from the WWII era for them and Mr. Griffin picked, “It Had to be You.” We were thrilled to see how much they enjoyed the song and even just talking to us. Memories like these are absolutely priceless, and I am so grateful to have been able to meet these two kind and wonderful veterans. 

Taking photos in foreign lands can be quite amusing. 

Singing For The Boys

"We'll Meet Again" 

Seventy years to the day from the greatest amphibious operation in history, the Philips girls found ourselves in the romantic and historic town of St. Marie du Mont. The feeling was simply electric as tanks rolled in, motorcycles buzzed around the grand old church which anchored the centre of the town, and thousands of men, women, and children in the clothing of 1944 brought the pages of history to life. It was the closest experience I've ever had to going back in a time machine and experiencing the war of my fathers. 

Near the vaulted entrance of the church where German soldiers once ran to hide behind as American troops poured into town, Faith had the honor of singing "We'll Meet Again" to a company of soldiers from Holland, Belgium, Scotland, and Malta. Their pure hearted love for the music and appreciation for my sister's gift of song made them the very favorite company that I met during our whole Normandy experience.

After the song, we managed to get everyone together for a group shot. Almost everyone.

In the "real world" beyond this wonderful time in Normandy, we are separated by languages and cultures, not to mention thousands and thousands of miles, but for a short time we were united in a unique way as we found a common ground forged in the anvil of our collective appreciation for the stories of the brave men of D-Day and the great fight that brought Liberty to the world. It was truly magnificent. 

"The Ocean Was Blood Red"

Private Allen Spiro of the Rangers of Pointe du Hoc.

Private Allen Spiro of the Rangers of Pointe du Hoc.

He was only seventeen years old when he hit the beach right off of Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, and private Allen Spero, now age eight-eight. told me that after a day of fighting "the ocean water was blood red." Pointe du Hoc was the highest point between Utah Beach to the West and Omaha Beach to the East.  Private Spero is one of the few surviving members of the United States Army Ranger Assault Group which was the subject of Ronald Reagan's famous 40th anniversary speech given at Pointe du Hoc, the most famous presidential message  ever given about D Day. He told us that it took close to three hours under heavy fire for him to scale Pointe du Doc. He said that he lost a lot of friends: "You can not imagine what it is like to have one of your best friends die right next to you, and there is nothing you can do."

 

Private Spero told me that he carried a mortar, but abandoned it because it proved to be useless. He exchanged the mortar for a sharpshooter gun which he would carry all the way to Berlin. My little sister Virginia was next to me for most of my conversation, and Private Spero told me that he could not really describe the battle with someone twelve or under present. He thought it was too much for their ears. But he did describe how he targeted Germans at night by their rifle fire and the fact that he killed dozens if not hundreds. He said there were two types of men who walked away from D Day: those who could sleep for the rest of their lives and those who could not. The second group of men tended not to live long.

After D Day he was under orders to make it to Berlin and find Hitler. His group caught a ride on Patton's tanks, but by the time he arrived in Berlin, Hitler was dead. He was also one of the men to liberate the concentration camp Buchenwald. He said the liberation of the camp was a terrible scene. The Germans put up a big fight and many soldiers and Jewish prisoners were killed.  

Like most of the men of D Day, he had not spoken about the battle until recently. Now he gets together regularly with the few survivors of Pointe du Hoc. He told me that this was his first trip to Normandy since D Day and he hoped he could see some of his old friends he had not seen since the war. 

Ronald Reagan said this of the boys of Pointe du Hoc: "Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: ``I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''

Ronald Reagan said this of the boys of Pointe du Hoc: "Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: ``I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''