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My Turn: Sometimes, the ghosts of war don’t fade

U.S. reinforcements wade through the surf from a landing craft in the days following D-Day and the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France at Normandy in June 1944.

U.S. reinforcements wade through the surf from a landing craft in the days following D-Day and the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France at Normandy in June 1944.

It has been many years since my favorite uncle, Ribby, passed away in Salem, Mass. I remember visiting him each day at the hospice at Salem Hospital. His next to last day, we had a conversation about war. We ended up talking, not as relatives but as fellow veterans – and he did most of the talking.

I asked him about his service. I learned a lot about D-Day – from someone who landed on the first day – and the carnage war brings. He earned the Purple Heart that day but did not disclose his injuries until late into the night. He was evacuated, and when he returned to his unit, he was reassigned to headquarters company because he could read and speak French.

He was deeply upset that when the war ended, he was the only one still alive from his original platoon. Survivor’s guilt tormented him all his life.

He never married when he got back to the States but he was a kind and gentle person, and I believe he would have made a great father. He told me that he, too, should have died in Europe. I told him that I was glad he was still alive because he was caring, funny, generous and always a gentleman.

As far as I know, he never talked about the war with anyone else. I was fortunate to be given his American flag and Purple Heart when he was buried.

I have them in a glass case with a picture of him and my father in their uniforms. It is a true honor to have these mementos.

Tom Brokaw was right that the World War II veterans were the greatest generation. I am honored to have known several of them. My only regret is that I did not have something with me that day to record his oral history of D-Day and World War II.

If we had talked earlier about his experiences, it would have been nice to bring him back to France so that he could have a chance to leave the ghosts of war behind. He is truly missed.

(Buzz Gagne lives in Concord.)

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