Seventy-five years ago, my dad was among the first of the Allied troops to land on Utah Beach, Normandy. He told us many times about how the boats' flaps went down releasing his 4th Infantry Division into chest-high waters to charge the shore. But we heard little about horrors he witnessed and nothing about the fear he must have felt.

He was a war hero, advanced to the rank of battlefield captain before the end of that first day after having survived massive casualties. After the liberation of Cherbourg, he then shipped to Luzon where he received his "million dollar" wound; his ticket home.

My dad was always fearless in my eyes. I filled in the blanks of what happened on June 6, 1944 with my own limited, sanitized view of battle wounds. It was the movie "Saving Private Ryan," that gave me a glimpse of a horrible reality I had never before comprehended.

It was hell.

As we now have more understanding of wartime PTSD, I realize my dad must have suffered that emotional trauma, too. But the war veterans of that generation just didn't talk about it. That was their code.

Back then I think his therapy was late nights at the VFW, seeking camaraderie among those who had some idea of what that infantry experience was like. It was probably a necessary way of connecting.

I reflect on this because the importance of emotional connection was not understood.

Back in that day, it would have been perceived as a sign of weakness.

Strong men didn't cry.

Which wasn't true. Eventually, they do.

That otherwise belief left those boys to carry those terrible images into adulthood and on into old age with no way to process them except maybe with their closest confidants; those who had experienced the battlefield.

My father finally acknowledged some of that pain before he died of cancer at the age of 79. No doubt the effects of his treatments had taken their toll, but I remember him weeping as he remembered his fellow soldiers. I had never seen him cry.

"We were volunteers," he said. "And we never asked for a thing."

True enough. They made incredible sacrifices and on that first day they changed the course of history.

But there are many different types of battlefields that had left traumatic scars on people who most of us meet and interact with every day, and for them every day offers the same emotional struggles.

Nothing is more isolating than emotional pain. If you don't share it, you feel separated from everyone else because you believe no one else could ever understand your reality.

But that's not true.

We tell ourselves stories about people we know and project lives of happiness and bliss based on little more than their Facebook page. And then we project how different we are from them.

But that's not true either.

It's only when we talk with people, preferably a diverse variety of people, that we also learn something about ourselves, which can be a path to self-acceptance.

When we make connections, we feel less isolated.

We find reasons to be grateful.

Before my father died, he told me he was the luckiest man alive. I know he counted many blessings during his life, including the pivotal outcome of that epic military effort.

But at this 75th anniversary, I wonder how he managed those painful memories of the losses he experienced in Normandy when he was barely a man.

He once said, "When I wake up in the middle of the night, I don't know if I think about Normandy because I can't sleep, or I can't sleep because I'm thinking about Normandy."

Paula M. Anderson has written numerous columns as an advocate for health, wellness and positive behavior change. She is a certified health and wellness coach who lives in Grand Junction.

 

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