We must carry on the stories of WWII veterans after they're gone

Published on Thursday, 6 June 2019 18:32
Written by The Plain Dealer

On June 7, 1944, readers of The Plain Dealer got a firsthand account of the Allies’ pivotal D-Day landing the day before from the paper’s war correspondent, Roelif Loveland, writing “from a balcony seat high up in God’s heaven,” as flak and tracer bullets lit up the sky around his aircraft.

And the Cleveland family of 1st Lt. Howard C. Quiggle was also able to read that he was alive and well - and piloting the B-26 Marauder that had ferried Loveland to his eagle’s perch above the battle, “riding the tail of a comet to see history in the making,” as Loveland wrote in his Page One story after that fateful day.

The D-Day landings that changed the course of war and accelerated Adolf Hitler’s slow descent to defeat were launched 75 years ago this week.

“We will accept nothing less than full Victory!” came the order from Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Yet victory was never certain. A handwritten note from Ike, written in case of defeat, concludes, “The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Fortunately, bravery and devotion, as well as luck, planning, daring and deep sacrifice by those who launched and fought on those bloody beaches, did the trick. Attacking along 50 miles of shoreline, more than 4,000 Allied troops fell on that first day. But many more followed, beginning the drive for Berlin.

Where are they now, those intrepid paratroopers, bombardiers, pilots, medics, Army Rangers and all those others who stormed ashore on June 6, 1944?

Like 1st Lt. Quiggle and Roelif Loveland, a World War I combat veteran considered one of the greatest writers ever to grace the pages of The Plain Dealer, most have passed on to their rewards. Only about 30 American survivors are expected to attend this year’s D-Day battle anniversary in France. Nearly 350 World War II veterans die every day, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department estimates, according to the Associated Press.

Pretty soon, they all will be gone - and the rest of us must be the ones to carry forward their stories, and remember the history they forged and their sacrifice and that of their fallen comrades.

Longtime Plain Dealer military affairs reporter Brian Albrecht has helped by spending years compiling vivid stories from D-Day survivors and others who fought in or contributed to the war effort during World War II. Twelve of those stories were highlighted in Sunday’s Plain Dealer, from the 2008 remembrances of the late English clerk Betty Leighty of Parma Heights, who came to the United States as a war bride in 1946, to John Bistrica’s vivid 1994 depiction of the tumultuous, bloody landing at Omaha Beach and the night he spent freezing, wet and hungry in a 20-foot hole he had to dig himself. Bistrica at 95 was recently profiled in The Vindicator of Youngstown, where he lives.

Their powerful stories need to be remembered, along with the D-Day fight, so crucial to ultimate victory in that war.

But are our collective memories fading too fast? An Associated Press story in The Plain Dealer Tuesday reported that many states no longer require D-Day to be part of the history curriculum.

The Ohio Department of Education’s 52-page model “American History” curriculum, posted at education.ohio.gov, does not mention D-Day.

That doesn’t mean that teachers can’t teach it - and many probably do. And educators might argue that, as we get farther away in time from a conflict, teaching its root causes and long-term impacts becomes more important than the specifics of any given battle.

But specifics of battle also matter. The nitty-gritty reality of war matters.

So on this 75th anniversary of the D-Day battle, we collectively should resolve to work harder to make sure this history, this sacrifice, this longest day, isn’t lost when the last veteran of that battle departs his Earthly existence.

The Plain Dealer

Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Thursday, 6 June 2019 18:32. Updated: Thursday, 6 June 2019 18:34.