This past week marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. It ushered in the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe and set the stage for the Boomer Generation that followed. The first boomers were born one year after the War, so memories were fresh in the minds of all adults. Yet, for most boomers, the subject of the war was rarely spoken of, if ever, in their families.
In talking to fellow boomers through the years, it is Mister Boomer’s experience that their parents — and grandparents — did not want to talk about the War. That was a closed chapter and things were moving forward; it was a new, hopeful age. Consequently, many boomers were raised without knowing what, if any, involvement their parents may have had in D-Day and World War II. Mister Boomer’s family was fortunate to not lose a family member during the War, so that fact allowed his relatives to maintain the level of silence that they wanted. An exception to the rule was a friend of Mister B’s. He knew his father was a Marine at Iwo Jima, though not once did the man speak of it in front of his son’s friends. He was a man of few words to begin with, so that did not appear strange to Mister B at the time.
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, neighbor friends of Mister B played with an army helmet, and once, one did a show-and-tell by furtively producing a bayonet that he said belonged to his father. To many boomer boys, WWII was what they saw in the movies and TV shows, like Combat! (1962-67).
Mister Boomer knew four of his uncles were in the army, but it wasn’t until he was in college that he learned anything other than that. There was a point where two of his maternal uncles no longer kept silent, and talked generally about their experiences in an artillery division. Looking back, it probably coincided with the last of their children reaching high school age. Nonetheless, details were few.
Years later, Mister B discovered two of his paternal uncles had fought in Europe, and one was there in Normandy. Only in recent years did he get information from a cousin that her father was a participant in D-Day. Mister B’s uncle was not infantry, but was more likely to be involved with setting up field headquarters immediately after the landing.
As for Mister Boomer’s father, he was drafted late in the war, and was fortunate enough to not see combat. However, he did not speak of his service, nor that of his brother and brother-in-law, until Mister Boomer was old enough to drink with them at the kitchen table. The topic of the War was something they wanted to keep to themselves. It’s possible they spoke to each other in the family’s native language, and the boomer kids would not have known. After all, they purposely kept their kids from learning to speak their parents’ language. All the better to say things around the kids without them knowing what was being said. “You’re an American,” was the only excuse they would give for not teaching the kids their native tongue. Mister B can’t help but think their War experiences fed into the desire that their children blend in.
Reports featuring soldiers who fought in WWII often show the men remembering fallen comrades, but little details of what they had endured themselves. Most downplayed their involvement, even when their boomer children came across medals or purple hearts. Now we are in a time when there are fewer eyewitnesses remaining to tell those tales. If you learned of any during your lifetime, boomers, pass the stories on to your relatives, children and grandchildren. They deserve to know the sacrifices that were made for the Boomer Generation and generations that followed. With humility and gratitude, Mister Boomer salutes you.
Did your parents speak about the War when you were young, boomers?