Route Six Six

As I might have mentioned, my father once told me that someone once told him that the date for the D-Day invasion was chosen to prevent any misunderstandings about exactly which day it was. When they wrote condensed military jargon, I understand that the British put the day first and the Americans the month. You can see how that might lead to coordination problems between military units with commanders from different countries. Enter a date that reads the same both ways: 6/6.

Alas, it is not true. General Eisenhower originally set D-Day for 05 June 1944, based on favourable tide conditions that would not be repeated for another two weeks and the fear that waiting another two weeks might give it away to the Germans. Bad weather on 05 June delayed the invasion by one day.

Of the approximately 14,000 Canadians who landed at “Juno Beach,” so code-named for the invasion, 359 were killed and another 715 injured. Those numbers are more precise than I’d expect, but that’s the official record.

I don’t want to glorify war: That’s not what remembrance is about. It’s not about idolizing movie-brave cartoon cut-outs: It’s about remembering real-world-brave men. I expect that many if not most were deathly afraid, with good reason. Yet they all stepped up, regardless of how they felt. That is bravery. That is duty.

Remembrance is, literally, about remembering what happened, and it starts with knowing something about the reality. It’s about knowing what has gotten us here: Not assuming that it was the best path, but acknowledging that it was our path.

I’ve come to see it as the societal equivalent of just saying, “I’m sorry,” when someone tells me their troubles. Not trying to re-frame or downplay or dismiss what they’re going through. Not trying to pretend that I really understand what it’s like for them. Just trying to stand with them, as well as I can.

For me, the statistics don’t necessarily help: I need to hear the stories, including the ones that show it’s possible to come through even that experience and still find joy in life. And give joy.

So, on this anniversary of D-Day, I share Guy Whidden’s story and I thank him for his service, then and now.


This entry was posted in Appreciating Deeply, Feeling Clearly, Mortality, Through History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Route Six Six

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    I keep coming back to Dag Hammerskold’s prayer: “For all that has been, Thank You; for all that will be, Yes.” D-Day may not have been right, but it is now part of us, and has helped shape who we are today.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I don’t know how to assess whether D-Day was right. I think it or something like it was necessary. But more than both of those value judgements is just that it was – and, as you note, has helped shape us.

  2. barbara says:

    The 6/6 date thing reminded me of what Alan Bennett said about Americans…he dropped the “III” from title, The Madness of King George, assuming Americans would think it a sequel.

  3. barbara says:

    “For me, the statistics don’t necessarily help: I need to hear the stories,” you say…

    As in 110,000 deaths I can’t comprehended, but knowing that friend Arthur died of COVID way before his time, means a lot.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yes. The stats matter for analysis; the stories matter for getting the human impact.

  4. I am always humbled and amazed at people who can find humour in dire circumstances.

    The death by COVID-19 in the US expressed as comparisons with lives lost in all wars since WW I is meaningful but staggering. And the “battle” is far from over. Not a day passes but the complexity of the issues facing all of us alternately fascinates and overwhelms me.

    On the other hand, your “fact of the day” yesterday about the shrapnel infested sand on the Normandy beaches puts all things in perspective, perhaps, like Shelly’s statue of Ozymandias beached in the desert sands and lost to fame.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – “Alternately fascinates and overwhelms”. Well said. It does feel like that. For me, finding humour is valuable as long as the search for it doesn’t negate the undeniable pain of the situation.

  5. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – as I mentioned once before, another reason, in addition to the tide times, why June 5 was originally chosen for D-Day was that there was a full moon the night of 4/5 June that gave more light and made it easier for the paratroopers to prepare for when they were about to hit the ground.

    With respect to getting a grasp of large numbers of people dead or otherwise, a simple trick is to picture some stadium or arena where you know the seating capacity. In the US, most major sporting events like football take place in stadiums with a seating capacity in the range of 80,000 to 110,000 people. Most hockey arenas seat 18,000 to 24,000. So to grasp the 100,000 plus COVID-19 deaths in the US, just picture a football stadium with every seat filled.

    On the subject of D-Day, from 6 June to the end of August 1944, the Germans suffered over 400,000 casualties in Normandy and northwestern France. In present day terms, that is the same as the current population of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – A full moon, eh? That shows the sort of detail that goes into planning (or should!) military exercises/assaults – always a revelation to me, who hasn’t had to organize anything on a grander scale than an in-home wedding reception for 125 people. And thanks for the rules of thumb for visualizing numbers of people.

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