Tuesday, May 30, 2006
My father, Robert Leighton Strong, was a 24 year old lieutenant when he landed on Omaha beach, known as bloody beach, on the coast of Normandy. Dad stepped onto France with his gun crew at hour 9. As he left England for the tense voyage across the channel and later as his landing craft maneuverd through the treacherous waters, his mother, Gladys, woke sobbing hysterically, and paced outisde her own parent's bedroom. She was tormented with a sense of ocean waves and motion sickness. For three hours she thought she was losing her mind. How many mothers were assaulted by premonitions of the sort grandma experienced, we cannot know.
I do know that my father, after long years of exhausting, lonely soldiering, his life and those of his men hanging in the balance, came home to Loudonville, Ohio to raise seven children with his bride, Ruth. I also know that many young American boys did not come home to live the fullness of the lives their families had dreamed of for them. This weekend we remember them all.
This weekend I also discovered dad's army knapsack hanging in my brother's office. Dad carried it through Europe and later, back home, carried it on camping trips with his son's boy scout troop. It's hard to think of dad. A little easier with time. It's hard to think of the young boys who didn't return and what they might have brought to their communities and families had they lived. We do know what they brought to a world menaced by fascism, by evil: freedom from tryanny.
Battle lines are not so easily discerned today as they were in the 40's and it seems that many are unwilling to name or are oblivious to the menace that only vigilance and valor will thwart so that future generations can live in the fullness of the promise of freedom.
I hung the knapsack on the cherry tree given to my brother and his wife when dad died. Just beyond it, in the verdant valley below, is the house where dad and mom raised a family and lived the shining dream of America.