Thursday, June 10, 2004

The longest day

Qu’il n’est pas d’avenir sans mémoire. There can be no future without memory. French President Jacques Chirac said this at the D-day 60th anniversary celebration in Normandy a few days ago. The TV camera panned the crowd and focused on a group of aging soldiers from different countries that formed the Allied Forces during World War II. Mostly in their 80s, these men now surely have to live with blurring eyesight, weakened knees and fading memories. One of them tried to suppress a sob but failed. My heart was in pieces.

They were, Chirac said, the enfants du monde jetés si jeunes dans le feu de la guerre, the children of the world thrown so young into the fire of war. Today they are young no more, but the memories, I am sure, continue to burn and blister the core of their beings. What was in the minds of these brave survivors as they sat there, this brilliant morning of June 6, 60 years after they stormed the beaches of Normandy to pave the way for the liberation of Western Europe from the clutches of Hitler?

And what was it like then when, as US Pres. Bush waxed, they set out ``in the half light of a Tuesday morning long ago’’? (Arrgh, I grabbed pen and paper to jot that down.)

Those in my generation weren’t human beings yet at that time. We were born in the half light of the post-war era. Many of the war scenes came to us through the war movies that I watched as a kid--``To Hell and Back’’, ``Tobruk’’. ``Guadalcanal Diary’’, ``Heaven Knows Mr. Allison’’, ``Sink the Bismarck!’’ ``Target Zero’’, ``Back to Bataan’’ to name a few. And, of course, ``The Longest Day’’ (1962) based on the best-selling book of war historian Cornelius Ryan.

To get into the D-Day mood I watched ``The Longest Day’’ the other day. It was a 50th anniversary commemorative VCD version (not pirated ha, P199 at the supermarket near the Inquirer) and it said on the jacket that it was in the original brilliant black and white. Well, no thanks to technology, the film has been turned into technicolor.

``The Longest Day’’ which had three directors could be a crash course on D-Day history. Some critics compare it with Spielberg’s ``Saving Private Ryan’’ (2002) which also starts out bloody on the beaches of Normandy. In the former the soldiers got shot and died while in the latter, you’d see intestines being shoved back and the badly wounded crying out for their mothers. They knew what hit them and that was the terrible part.

Many personal accounts have seen print over the years but words cannot totally capture the pain and the terror and the courage inside those who were there. And now, what is it like, in the half light of the survivors’ memory?

I looked at the black and white photographs of the beach landing by famous war photographer Robert Capa, he who shot that famous Spanish Civil War photo of a soldier being hit by a bullet. Capa’s Normandy B&Ws were the real stuff, I thought. Helmeted heads bobbing on the waters, crawlers on the sand. Soldiers—some 156,000 of them—were making their way to the shore to face Nazi fire and Capa himself had to make his own beach head. His watery shots showed his own struggle.

D-Day is considered the largest and most ambitious amphibious landing in history. That single day, more than 156,000 American, British, Canadian, French and other Allied troops arrived on board 5,000 ships. About 11,000 planes rained fire on Normandy to pave the way. The combined force was meant to stun Hitler’s Nazi forces then occupying France and to liberate the rest of Europe. More soldiers in the ensuing months would come to finish the campaign.

The one-day invasion was code-named Operation Overlord and was under US. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. The Normandy beaches were code-named Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno. Casualties were high at Omaha beach where Allied soldiers faced unrelenting fire as soon as they stepped out of the barges. In Pointe du Huc, soldiers clambered up craggy cliffs. They were like so many ants falling to the ground.

By August Paris would be liberated but the loss in men was heavy—about 10 percent of two million troops.

Elsewhere—in the Philippines and the rest of Asia--war was also being waged at that time. The world was in shambles.


The Rescission Act of 1946 says that the service of Filipinos who fought alongside the Americans during WWII ``shall not be deemed to be or to have been service in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof or any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges, or benefits.’’

That is being repealed now in the U.S. Congress. But let me share a letter posted in the Plaridel e-group that has reference to this and to Filipino veterans getting a little something at last. Many in the e-group surely know the writer and the addressee personally.

Dear Melissa,

I have lost all faith in America. They will just wait for our veterans to die. I have uncles that joined the Death March and fought in that war. They have said on a number of occasions that they never fought for pay. They fought for their country.

It is true that many of the veterans are poor and that a few dollars would help ease their situation. I don't believe we ever had to be part of that war. We were just used.

The sooner we come to terms with the true nature of our relationship with America, the better for us. It’s hard to talk with members of the Filipino Community in America. Second-generation Filipinos in the States may never comprehend how unjust America is to small countries.

But America has been good to many of you. That's okay. It lessens my resentment.