“They may be older now, and grayer now, and their ranks are growing thin/ But when these men were young, these men saved the world.”
–President Bill Clinton, addressing veterans at Omaha Beach, on the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1994
Bloody Omaha. My dad was in the third assault wave to hit Omaha Beach, the landing beach where nothing was going according to plan, which meant he faced water red with blood and a beach filled with the bodies and body parts of the dead and the dying. Oh, yes, and constant German machine gun fire and artillery shells, and nowhere to find cover. My dad was just a farm kid from Minnesota who had never heard a shot fired in anger. But from someplace deep inside he found the courage to move forward onto that bloody beach, and that day he, and thousands of boys like him, made history.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers the fear.
My dad, who was one of those troops so many years ago, once told me that only fools are never afraid. Being afraid doesn’t make you a coward, he told me. Brave people learn to go ahead despite being terrified.
This applies to all of us, he made clear at the time, and now I can see what he meant…me dealing with trauma therapy, my friends and family who have faced cancer, my friend who was suddenly widowed when her husband died of influenza several years ago…countless painful and scary situations, that so many of us from somewhere, deep down inside, find the wherewithal to face and overcome. I think that we are, all of us, braver than we realize.
Courage is not simply having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.
It’s Memorial Day here in the United States today, and the weekend wouldn’t seem complete if I didn’t post some kind of tribute to my dad, Sgt. Leonard Henry Resch. He fought from Omaha (“Bloody Omaha”) Beach in Normandy to Leipzig in Germany, seeing action in the Battle of the Bulge, liberating a concentration camp and oh, yes, helping liberate a continent along the way.
He never made a big deal about any of it, but he has always been my hero, he always will be, and darn it, I just wish I had told him more often while he was still here.
(PS English friends—he was stationed in Selsey before D-Day, if any of you know it? A small village on the southern coast.)
What happened in Charlottesville was evil. Pure and simple. The same evil my father fought in WWII, now come home to America, complete with swastikas, seig heils (including “heil Trump”) and chants of “JEWS won’t replace us”, and, in the end, murder. The KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, spewing their hate, were out in full force.
This is not a partisan issue. It is not about who you voted for in November 2016. It is about good versus evil, love versus hatred, and every American who believes that we are all, each one of us, created in the image of God, must have the courage to speak out against the dehumanizing tactics and beliefs of the evil that had arisen in our midst.
On Facebook today, I’ve seen a number of posts celebrating Independence Day with the quote “the Home of the Free because of the Brave…”
So I thought I’d take this opportunity to honor my Grandpa Baach, a Doughboy in WWI; my Father-in-Law George M. Marincel, a bombardier and navigator in a B-17 Flying Fortress, who flew 36 missions over Occupied Europe in WWII; and, of course, my dad, Leonard H. Resch, who fought at Omaha Beach, The Battle of Normandy, Northern France, Huertgen Forest, Battle of the Bulge, and Central Europe, and liberated the concentration camp Nordhausen.
May you all rest in God’s peace after the horrors of war.
When the magnificent and dedicated WWII vets of The Fort Snelling Honor Guard presented my mother with my dad’s casket flag at his burial, their commander read these words:
“On behalf of the President, the Armed Forces of the United States and a Grateful Nation, I present you this flag, a symbol of our Great Republic, for which our Departed Comrade has Honorably Served.”
Another Memorial Day & […] still at war, decorating an ever-increasing number of graves. –Eleanor Roosevelt, Memorial Day 1944.
When Eleanor Roosevelt wrote this, my dad was a 24 year-old farm boy from Minnesota living in Selsey, England, training for the great Allied invasion of France that would take place the next week on D-Day, June 6. My dad would hear his first shots fired in anger in the midst of some of the worst carnage of the entire war, on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, later aptly nicknamed “Bloody Omaha”.
The United States had a lot more graves to decorate after D-Day, and in the months to come, until WWII finally came to an end with unconditional surrender of Japan in August of 1945.
My dad has been gone for over twenty years now; his generation, the World War II generation, is almost gone now. The day we buried my father, there were enormous patches of open land at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery; when I went out there yesterday to visit mom and dad’s grave, I noticed that it is almost full. Soon there won’t be any veterans left to tell their stories about Omaha Beach, or The Battle of the Bulge, or the day their unit liberated Buchenwald, or Dachau, or one of the numerous sub-camps that lurked throughout Germany. It will be left to us, their children and grandchildren, to keep their stories alive, to make sure their legacies are passed on to new generations so that their heroism is never forgotten.
But will anyone want to listen? Are people listening now? I’m not entirely sure. And that makes my heart hurt…because I know the price my father paid, not just by giving his country the best years of his life, but in blood, in sweat and tears, in heartache and grief and flashbacks and lifelong nightmares.
What these men did mattered, then and for all time. They saved the world from a terrible, incomprehensible evil. As President Bill Clinton said of the gathered veterans in Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the year after my dad died:
They may be older now, and grayer now,
and their ranks are growing thin.
But when these men were young,
these men saved the world.
They did. They really did. Guys like my dad never have thought of themselves as heroes, but that’s exactly what they were.
My friend Betsy drew my attention to an installation called The Fallen last week and I have not been able to get the images out of my mind. Conceived and engineered (with the help of some 500 stenciling volunteers) by the British artists Andy Moss and Jamie Wardley of Sand In Your Eye in honor of International Peace Day (September 21), the interactive project involved the production of thousands (9000 to be exact) of sand silhouettes designed to represent the enormous loss of life that occurred on D-Day. The landing beach of Arromanches in France appears littered with shadowy “bodies”: now washed away by the tide, they remain, at least for me, an unforgettable sight.
From today’s Prayer for the Morning in Magnificat, a hymn for Memorial Day: “Remember, Lord, the fallen Who died in fields of war, In flaming clouds, in screaming crowds, On streets that are no more, That we today might waken And greet this day in peace With grateful prayer for those who bear The storms that never cease.
“Remember friends and strangers, And those forgotten now, Whose names are known to you alone, Before whose love we bow And ask that you surround them With mercy’s endless light That we may live, and we forgive The foe they went to fight.
“Remember, Lord, the living, Who bear the pain of loss– A death she died who stood beside Her Son upon the cross.
“Remember all your children, The dead and those who weep, And make us one beneath the sun Where love will never sleep.”
– Sr. Genevieve Glen, O.S.B.
Copyright 2004, Benedictine Nuns, Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO.
My dad had many close calls while serving in Europe during WWII, and lost many friends, but there is one in particular I want to remember today: his best friend, killed by a land mine in France? Belgium? Germany? I’ll never know. He finally told me the story–which he had never told anyone else–on Memorial Day 1992. The last Memorial Day he lived to see. It was also only the second time I ever saw my dad in tears (the other was when my grandma died). I’m afraid I wasn’t much help to him. I was so stunned to see tears in my dad’s eyes I didn’t know what to say. But I’ve never forgotten the pain in his eyes, and the way his voice cracked in the middle of his tale.
This is a picture of them together, I think. I know this was taken in Europe because of my dad’s acne. He was very handsome but he broke out for the first and only time in his life in France from, he told me, eating too much chocolate from their rations! I suspect the stress of being in combat may have added to the skin problems. In any case, this soldier is in a number of pictures my dad took, and this is the only professional picture he had of him with any of his buddies. but I will never know. For the last 21 years, however, I have prayed for my dad’s friend, and all the boys he knew who never came home.
It gives me a pang in my heart every time I remember the time I was planning a trip to France, and I showed my dad all the material that the Normandy Tourist Office had sent me about visiting the WWII beaches, especially Omaha Beach. He looked puzzled and asked me why on earth I would want to go there. Shocked, I said, “Because you were there. You were in the third assault wave to land on Omaha Beach. Daddy,” I said, ” you were a hero.” He turned away to hide the fact, I suspect, that he got choked up. Amazingly, my own father, the man I had lived with for 23 years, never realized before that his daughter thought he was a hero. (Alas, the trip to France fell through. But someday I’m going to see that beach, and bring flowers in memory of all of those who shed their blood n “Bloody Omaha.”)
I mentioned a later that day that I was planning to visit the American Cemetery in Colleville-Sur-Mere. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he said, quietly, “I watched them build that cemetery.” And I know he never, ever, got over the images he carried from Nordhausen and Buchenwald.
My beloved and gentle father has been at peace now for 20 years. I believe this with all of my being; I know the memories which tormented him all his life have no power to hurt him now, and that God has wiped away all of his tears. But it still breaks my heart to think of my dad, just a boy really, straight off the farm in Minnesota, facing the evils of Nazi Germany.
Eternal rest grant unto him, and all those who served our country, oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls rest in Your peace, until we meet again. Amen.
Here’s an excerpt from the Rush City Post, dated Friday, June 15, 1945:
Technician Fifth Grade Leonard H. Resch, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Resch, Harris, Minnesota, liason airplane mechanic with the First Army, captured two fleeing German soldiers yesterday from the rear cockpit of an artillery cub plane.
On a jaunt combining business and pleasure, T5 Resch spotted the enemy soldiers as they were sneaking through a clump of woods. The pilot of his plane, Lt. Robert H. Williams of San Antonio, Texas, immediately put his ship in a dive towards the running Germans as T5 Resch opened up with his carbine in a manner which would do credit to a P-38.
The enemy, upon being strafed in such an erratic manner, immediately waved a white handkerchief. Resch then landed and took his two customers in tow.
NB: My dad was actually promoted to T3 before his discharge in Sept. 1945. Also, Pilot Robert Williams, more commonly known as “Crazy Roberts,” liked to fly his Piper Cub under the Eiffel Tower, at least until his superiors, who for some reason frowned upon this practice, made it clear that he had to “cease and desist.” Dad would never admit to being with him–but he wouldn’t deny it, either.