At the 60th anniversary of the D-Day, I probably shrugged and didn’t think much of it. As far as I was concerned, I relived that day as much as I possibly could – or cared to – when watching the first half hour of Steven Spielberg’s brilliant Saving Private Ryan. Now at this 75th anniversary, the battles at Normandy mean a great deal more to me. They’re interwoven into my father’s life, threads that I hadn’t known existed ten years ago.
I’ve written before on how I had no idea about my father’s time in France during the war until he was near the end of his life, residing in a nursing home. You can read my essay on the Wasafiri site. As I mentioned in the essay, David and I went to Normandy to trace my father’s steps – well, as much as we could in a 3-day weekend. This trip was something of a sidebar to the emotional journey of putting together pieces of my father’s life and the realisation that my mother had created such a malicious fiction about her ex-husband. Watching the news coverage in recent days in the build-up to the anniversary, I’m transported back to those few days in Normandy.
It didn’t take long before we saw signs that my father’s troop had been there. His troop, the 2nd Infantry Division, also known as the Indian Heads because of their insignia, were not a part of the D-Day landings on the 6th of June 1944. Their story begins on D-Day plus one at Omaha Beach, where some 3000 dead bodies had to be removed, and in the days that followed as the division grew to face weeks of battles at St Lo and Brest.
My father’s Bronze Stars are the only proof that he fought in Normandy. In the absence of any ‘old man’s war stories’, I relied on museums and monuments. Knowing that my father never returned to France, I took snaps of the many places where the Indian Heads were remembered. More significantly, I took photos of what these towns and beaches are like today, evidencing the sense of peace and freedom.