“Since I was a very small child, I’ve had a kind of reverence for the past, and I felt a very intimate connection with it.” – Hilary Mantel
Sarah Byrn Rickman’s journey …
FROM PEARL HARBOR TO NORMANDY
January 26, 1998, I stood overlooking the watery grave of the USS Arizona, sunk during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. President Roosevelt called it “the date which will live in infamy.” World War II had caught up with America.
In 1941, I was four years old. I have no memory of “Pearl Harbor Day.” I do know our family of three was enroute from Colorado, on our way to a family Christmas in Tennessee. My parents heard the news over our car radio. I learned that we were at war, whatever that was.
January 1942, I heard Kate Smith sing God Bless America on the radio for the first of many times. I’ve never forgotten it. That song brought hope to our shell-shocked nation that winter and still works its magic today.
‘NOTHIN’ CAN STOP THE ARMY AIR CORPS’
I well remember the patriotic wartime programs in the 4th floor auditorium at Denver’s Stevens Elementary School. Several boys, cardboard airplane wings strapped to their arms, zoomed around the stage while the student body – kindergarten through sixth grade – sang “Nothin’ Can Stop the Army Air Corps”. The phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor!” was instilled in us early on and via the radio we learned to sing Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition! Weekly, we brought a quarter to school to buy 25-cent Victory stamps to fill our War Bond books. In ten years, an $18.75 Series E war bond would be worth $25!!!
D-Day, the 6th of June 1944, changed the direction of The War. That day, the Allies landed on the beaches at Normandy, France. – It was the beginning of the end of WWII. It still took another year-plus.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. He had led us. Now he was gone. But in May, Germany surrendered! In August, two atomic bombs shocked the world into a new reality and brought the Empire of Japan to its knees. August 14, 1945, the Japanese surrendered. It was over. My friends and I marched up and down the sidewalk along 6th Avenue in East Denver, banging our mothers’ pots and pans with spoons and shouting to the people riding the Number 6 streetcars home from work: “The War’s Over, the War’s Over!”
OLD GLORY FLIES HIGH
After the war, now in 6th grade, I did my stint with the school Color Guard. At 3:15 in the afternoon, seven of us marched single file to the flagpole. Standing tall – saluting properly – slowly, reverently, we lowered and folded the precious Stars and Stripes. Since then, how many times have I stood in a major league baseball park and – hand over my heart – sung, with pride, the Star Spangled Banner while Old Glory made its way up the flagpole in center field?!
On that January 1998 day at Pearl Harbor I realized that having now seen where WWII began – the event that shaped my young life – I HAD to see where the beginning of the end of that war began. August 18, 2022, my older son, daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, and I visited the Overlord D-Day Museum, then walked the beach and the American cemetery in Normandy, France – hallowed ground where, today, our fallen troops lie quietly.
WHERE THE WWII REALITY BEGAN
Pristine. Row and row and row upon row of white markers – the occasional Star of David standing among the crosses. Though crowds walk continually along the cemetery’s tree-lined path, the quiet is broken only by the occasional child’s cry amidst the soft murmurs of adult voices. This is where the reality began – and remains today.
Ahead lies a tall, slender monument. Inside is a chapel erected by the United States of America with this inscription:
“In grateful memory of her sons who gave their lives in the landings on the Normandy Beaches and in the liberation of Northern France. Their graves are the permanent and visible symbol of their heroic devotion and their sacrifice in the common cause of humanity.”
These words grace the altar:
I GIVE UNTO THEM ETERNAL LIFE AND THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH
Irving Berlin wrote it; Kate Smith sang it: God Bless America.