This picture appeared in the newspaper where I worked on June 5, 1994, a day shy of the 50th anniversary of D-Day. I was stunned. The man on the far right was my father, and I recognized him immediately. I fell into a chair in a heap. He'd died seven years previously, and I missed him. And on that moment, I missed that he'd never told me the story of that day.
What we knew: He was a Navy doctor, was wounded in the early hours of the invasion, and was 29 in this picture.
I spoke with two of his friends and learned more. He landed on Omaha Beach 14 minutes after the first wave. Eisenhower had sent in the docs as a morale booster on the theory that if they were sending in the docs, it couldn't be that bad. On the way in, my father had to console a kid from rural Indiana who'd lost it and was screaming. My father settled him down and when they landed he and the young man jumped out together. The boy, a teenager, was killed instantly by a bullet to the head; my father dragged his body to the beach and yanked his dog tags. (Months later, I also learned, he took a train to the boy's home, gave the parents their son's dog tag and told them he'd died bravely.)
In the first hours of battle, the Americans had knocked out the German guns near the landing site. Check that; they missed one. As a new wave was landing, an 88 mm shell whistled in and hit one of the vessels. Bodies were everywhere. My father, close to the cliff, leapt up, yelling "Medics!" and rushed down to the wounded. Another 88 landed, hurtling a piece of shrapnel into his shoulder; knocking him out face down in the water. A medic pulled him out.
Later, a friend, Dr. Joe Foley, was ordered down from another section of the beach to fix my father's shoulder and get him off the beach. Foley couldn't remove the metal so he dressed the wound but he couldn't convince my father to be evacuated. "Your dad could be kind of stubborn," Foley told me. Yes, I know.
Why, I asked Foley, did you guys never talk about it?
"Talking about yourselves was, well, like bragging," he said. "Besides, anyone who wasn't there wouldn't really understand what we went through."
Foley thought it was time for a little Shakespeare, so he quoted the soliloquy from Henry V, in its entirety, including these lines:
"From this day to the ending of the world,
We in it shall be remembered:
We few we, happy few, we band of brothers."
For audio: http://cowbird.com/story/3474/Fred/