Storming the Beaches of Europe: A Parent’s Perspective

In early June of this year, I sent my teenage son off to Europe.  This was kind of a big deal because it was the first time that he had traveled anywhere without the rest of his family. It was a school trip that had been in the works for about 18 months – well planned and chaperoned – and one that he was very excited to be a part of.  His mom and I helped him pack, gave him lots of advice, and took him to the airport.  There, we stood around talking to other nervous parents about the trip, their kids, and our combined hopes that “nothing bad happens” while they are away.  This all happened on June 5th.

Next stop, Europe!

Next stop, Europe!

This date is important because 70 years earlier – to the day – young men, many of them the same age as my son, where lining up to board landing craft, airplanes, ships, and tanks to take part in the D-Day invasion of Europe.  There had been lots of media coverage in the days leading up to this anniversary, but as I stood there watching him walk away to board the plane, I had a sort of epiphany.

My Dad had been a solider in WWII, serving in the Army.  I’ve talked with him at length over the years about where he served, what battles he was in, what he saw, and how he felt about what he had witnessed.  I was (and am) proud that he made the sacrifice to serve his country when it needed him. But until that moment, as I watched my son turn and head down the ramp to the plane that would take him away into the great ‘unknown,’ I had never considered what it would have been like 70 years ago.  To be a parent watching their child go off to another part of the world – directly into harm’s way – and know that they may never return.

Now, I know my son was just going on an organized school trip, but it really struck me for the first time that there had been a whole generation of parents who had stood by and watched their sons and daughters go off to an uncertain future. Not knowing what lay ahead, but also understanding that action needed to be taken and that sacrifices would ultimately be made.  In fact, my grandparents had watched as four of their sons went off to war, and then had the strength to continue with their lives not knowing if or when an Army vehicle might arrive at their door bearing a telegram.

So next time you hear someone thank a veteran for their service, take a moment to also think of their brave parents. They also made a great sacrifice, one which should be recognized and appreciated.

By the way, my son came home safely.  He was so excited by his experience that, on the way home from the airport he wanted to know if he could go again next year.  My wife and I smiled to one another knowing we were both so happy and grateful that he had returned to us. In fact, we were so happy we were practically beaming as we turned to him – and in unison told him “no.”