65 years ago today, the War in Europe ended. Germany actually surrendered unconditionally on May 7, but it was the following day which was celebrated as V-E (“Victory in Europe”) Day by the victorious Western Allies. (In a sign of troubless to come, the Soviet Union refused to celebrate on the same day. So Soviet V-E Day was May 9).
The war was won by what Tom Brokaw famously called “The Greatest Generation.” My parents were part of that storied generation, and my father was a veteran of the European war, having fought in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. In his book about the generation that won World War II, Tom Brokaw said, “they were proud of what they accomplished but rarely discussed their experiences, even with each other.”
That was certainly true of my father. There were occasional exceptions, when we would draw out of him some wartime memory – like what it really felt like when crossing the Channel in June 1944. And then there was his map, meticulously (and somewhat artistically) recording his service in Europe - a map I am proud to have hanging in my office today. Even when we did draw something out of him, however, he tended to play down the excitement of it all. If anything, his emphasis seemed more on how scary the whole experience was, which, I suspect, probably reinforced his natural inclination to be a calm, peaceful, and patient person himself. A hardworking breadwinner, when things were much more difficult than they later became, he understood what his priorities were – and that there were much more important things in life than excitement. He aspired to and lived a quiet life, a life of patience, generosity, and, above, all family – his wife of 52 years (whom he loved from the day they first met at a soap sale in Macy’s soon after the war), his 3 children, and, in his last years, his grandchildren, plus his brother and 4 sisters, their husbands, children, and grandchildren, the whole extended clan, the famiglia, to whom he remained devoted to the end. He always understood that family means people, to be loved and cherished, whoever and however they may turn out to be.
All this was possible for him, for his family, for an entire nation, and indeed a liberated world, only thanks to the great military victory whose anniversary is recalled today – a reminder that such things don’t come for free, and are to be cherished.