70 years ago today, there was an 18 year old man sitting in a plane shaking in his pants afraid that he would never see his family again. He gently prayed to God to let him live. The fear turned to terror when the door of the plane opened and he knew he had to jump and may not survive. When he jumped, the fear and terror remained on the plane. He pulled the rip cord and was focused on the task at hand to defeat the Nazis.
That is the way Willie told me the story of his 101st Airborne mission at D-Day June 6, 1944. I met Willie about 5 years ago; he was heading to Normandy for the 65th Anniversary of the Invasion. It was late May 2009 and I was with some business associates having a cigar at the Carnegie Club, when my friend noticed three old men having cigars with 101st Airborne caps on. So we went over to say hello and thank them for their service to our country. We had no idea when we went to them that they were members of the 101st Airborne at the invasion of Normandy. For the next two hours these men shared their bravery with us and frankly brought us all to tears. They told us that every year since the end of World War II all of the remaining members of the 101st travel to New York for a few days and then go to Normandy to celebrate and that’s why they were in New York. They were heading to Normandy the next day. Then Willie (I am not even sure if that is his name, but that’s what I call him) told me there were only 5 men left, the three there and two more who were meeting them in France.
I looked at Willie and told him “Thank you, because if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be alive”. He looked at me confused, so I told him I would explain to him that my Mother and Father were born in Germany in 1935. After the war ended they struggled. My father’s family was very poor ; he saved for 4 years to earn enough for a boat ticket. My mother’s family was a little better off. My grandfather was an engineer so they did okay. However, to say he was strict was an understatement. So my mother worked out a deal that she would visit my grandfather’s sister in New York for 3 years and come home. So both set sail (on different boats) in 1955: my father never to return and my mother to go on an adventure. Neither one could speak English and their church was giving an English class and that is where my parents met. They fell in love, got married, and had three children (I am the baby).
So I turned to Willie and said “So if you weren’t successful at Normandy, Germany probably would have won the War and my parents would have never gone to the United States and as a result would have never met and never have had me. So my friend Thank you for winning because I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t!
He looked at me with a tear in his eye and said “Thank you, in all these years that is the most sincere thank you I ever received.” Then he lifted his drink and said:
YOU ARE WELCOME!