D-Day was one of the defining events of modern times. We can learn a great deal by studying history at a broad level, but there is another type of learning. Hearing from the experiences of men and woman of character can help us develop our character.
One of the joys of working as a psychologist is to hear people’s stories. With that privilege comes the responsibility of carefully guarding privacy. Any time I share about my work as a psychologist, I careful disguise and guard the identity of the individuals I serve (even if they tell me it is not necessary). I never describe personally identifiable information, the place where I met with a patient, or when I met with a patient.
D-Day was 75 years ago today. June 6th, 1944, marked the beginning of Operation Overlord. Operation Overlord is often referred to as D-Day and involved the mobilization of 160,000 allied troops to invade the Northwest coast of France (the beaches of Normandy), a strategic position held by Nazi Germany. U.S. troops landed at areas known as Omaha and Utah. This information is readily available through internet searches, and many have viewed films dramatizing the invasion. What is not easily grasped is the experience of those who were there in 1944.
One Veteran’s Experience in 1944
We can learn all the facts that are available about what occurred, but those of us who were not there can’t know or understand the experience. A Veteran who was there described his experience to me in detail.
“It was so calm and beautiful out on the ocean. Our LST started towards the beach. It stayed calm until we got about half a mile off shore. Then all hell broke loose. There were explosions and shots everywhere. Our soldiers started making their way towards the beach and I saw them die. There was death everywhere.”
As this dignified and elderly Veteran described events from 1944 (over 70 years ago), I saw and felt the emotional impact. He was tearful, his voice cracked, and he trembled as he shared what he saw and heard. He further shared about experiences that occurred earlier in the war when he was under enemy attack and an adjacent US Navy ship was destroyed and he heard people screaming.
The emotions were still powerful after decades. He was grateful to have had a career and family, but still burdened by traumatic memories and unresolved pain. He stated “When I was busy with work or family, I was okay. I’m not active anymore and I think about it. I feel like I’m captive to these feelings. I feel like I’m in prison and can’t get out.”
When this Veteran told me his story, he never highlighted his heroism. He was deeply saddened by the loss of life and traumatized by what he directly witnessed on D-Day. After he had described what he saw during the invasion and had composed himself and wiped his eyes, he focused and took on a demeanor that reflected pride and resolve. “I would do it all again. We had a job to do.”
In spite of the impact this Veteran’s trauma had on him, he did not regret serving. Example of the impact of the trauma include, not being able to enjoy social gatherings, focusing on his work rather than relationships, and intense emotional pain that others did not recognize or understand.
Recent estimates are that only 0.4% of the US population have served in the global war on terror. Very few of us have made the type of sacrifice of WWII Veterans. These men did not serve for recognition, career, or financial gain, but because “we had a job to do.” We can’t live up to the example set for us by what has been referred to as “the Greatest Generation”, but we can honor them by living virtuous lives.
What are some examples of virtues we can strive towards?
- serving others
- meaningful work
When I hear a WWII Veteran share his story, I am filled with admiration. These men are my heroes. While they are heroes, they are normal men. The WWII Veterans I have met are common people who have done extraordinary things in extraordinary times. After their service, many went back to common occupations, such as food service, building trades, and trucking. They raised families and worked in spite of the burden of untreated trauma.
If you have taken the time to read this, thank you. Please set aside a few moments to reflect on the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the heroes that sacrificed to serve a cause greater than themselves. Remember them and the virtues they model for us.
About the Author
I’m Dr. Dave Spriggs. I have been married since 1996 and have two young adult daughters. I am an active member of the Wesleyan Church and volunteer in my community. Some of my hobbies include animals and nature, jazz music, technology, reading, and marksmanship. I have worked in the mental health field since 1994 and my focus is on outpatient psychotherapy focused on relationships and marriage, treatment of depression, and Christian Counseling. You can learn more about my work as a psychologist and contact me through my private practice website.