A brief encounter at the local workout place the other day still gives me tingles and reminds me of the enduring significance of World War II and its impact on our country and our families, all these years later.
A friend revealed that her husband had been a baby when his father shipped out to Italy during the war effort. He had become one of Darby’s Rangers, the elite fighting force of the day, precursors to today’s Army Rangers and Navy Seals. He had been killed in action, probably during the very deadly battle at Anzio in 1944. He had either been lost at sea during the invasion, or his body not located, as there wasn’t a grave, so far as the family knew.
The husband did not remember his father and of course yearned for more details. All his life, he had been proud to think of his dad as a war hero, but of course, wanted to know more.
So, upon reaching retirement, he and his wife decided to go over there and try to track him down. I am not sure, but believe the ceremony was at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Nettuno, Italy, south of Rome, created for the casualties of the battles of Sicily, Anzio and Rome.
American flags and Italian flags decorate each grave.
As it happens, the Nebraska couple scheduled a visit there during the American Memorial Day weekend. As it turns out, that town always hosts a magnificent memorial service for the Allied troops lost there during WWII, numbering well into the thousands.
The commandant was so moved by the Nebraskans coming all that way that he set them up under a tent with the dignitaries, and spoke of the father as being a hero and a liberator. He introduced the Nebraskans and spoke of their visit in his remarks to the crowd. It was a meaningful moment of unity, connection and gratitude for both the Italians and the Americans in the honor and the shared remembrance.
The father’s name is engraved on a plaque at the cemetery. I can imagine there was the shock of recognition, followed closely by tears. It gave the son a moment of awe and closure that he’ll never forget. It had to have been one of the highlights of his entire life.
More than 3,000 names were engraved at the cemetery of those soldiers lost at sea or whose bodies were never recovered from battle.
An Italian military band played, and an American military band played. Both flags were prominent. Flowers were plentiful. The Nebraskans were touched to see so many locals attending the service, along with tourists from the U.S. and all over. Their favorite scene: a 90-something veteran in his WWII uniform.
I still get tingles just thinking about that day. What it must have felt like for that dear man! To think of finding your father when you yourself are retirement age. All that he missed, through the years — and yet, all that he gained by experiencing that day. He never really was fatherless, all this time, because of the pride he took in his father’s courage and example. Besides the legacy of his earthly father, he had the One Who loves him best of all, up in heaven.
It made me push a long-desired trip to Normandy up to the top of our Bucket List. Now we know that the best time to go there would be on Memorial Day, when a similar ceremony is held. I’m already anticipating tingles and tears.
I join all those who declare a moment of silence, gratitude and respect this weekend, with loving prayers, for all those Americans who gave their lives in service to and protection of people they will never know, but also for their own families. That soldier might never have dreamed that his son would reunite with him, spiritually at least, more than 60 years after his death. But somehow, I believe that father knows it now . . . and is looking toward the day they will be reunited for real.
Heavenly Father, let each of us take time to honor the generations of the past who did so much to defend Your peace and goodness. Let us discipline ourselves to follow their example. Guide today’s people to be as worthy as the last generations have been of honor, remembrance and praise, in Jesus’ Name.
(T)he glory of children are their fathers. — Proverbs 17:6b
By Susan Darst Williams | www.TheDailySusan.com | Radiant Beams | 5/28/17