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Just Ramblin’: Memories

By Art Penchansky

It’s June 6th, 2018, and I’m sitting in front of my new computer trying to clearly as possible remember events that happened 74 years ago on several beaches in northwest France that I was fortunate to visit while stationed in the area 62 years ago. Obviously, I’ve told this story several times over the past 25 years so I probably got the details much better then than now when my memory is fading. The assault was made on five different but closely attached beaches spread over 60 miles by the American forces at Utah and Omaha beaches, the British at Gold and Sword, and between them the Canadians at Juno beach. Several of the landings were supported by French naval forces.

Art Penchansky
Art Penchansky

Today, each of the landing areas has its own museum and, unfortunately, I visited back in 1956 before they were all completed. I understand that now several of them have sections that virtually take you right into the battle. When I was there much of it still looked like the event happened a few days before.

However, I have visited most of the cemeteries in France and two in England that have the remains of US forces killed during the battle of D-Day. I also visited one cemetery that contains the remains of Canadian and British forces that lost their lives in this momentous event. One of my memories is that of visiting the little town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, taken by paratroopers and made famous in the D-Day film called by the same name and starring John Wayne.

Like many of you I’ve visited the national cemetery in Arlington and seen all the American flags flying there for forces trying to keep us free. It is for this reason that I oppose doing anything but standing with your hand over your heart when the flag of our country goes by or when our national anthem is being played.

Oddly enough, I can remember back to when I was 6 or 7 years old and my Dad took me to the Decoration Day parade down Broadway in Bayonne. Of course, Decoration Day is now called Memorial Day, without my objection. But I can remember each time the flag went by everyone stood with their hands over their hearts and the men removed their hats. Several men in the crowd were in uniform and they saluted in this instance. As I had a great seat sitting on the curb, I resented my Dad pulling me up each time the flag went by, but by the end of the parade I fully realized that’s what you do when the flag goes past or when the anthem is played.

I also remember in that parade was a veteran of the Civil War (“War Between the States” as my southern-born wife always reminded me years later). I wanted to know why he was in a blue uniform and wearing a round cap with brim rather than the uniform with which I was familiar when I was informed of which war he fought. He had to be at least 95 years old and could have been a drummer-boy during his war. But he stood in the rear of the slowly moving car saluting the crowd as if he were 21 years of age.

I marched in that parade about 15 years later after I was discharged and my uniform still fit. And I remembered the guy in his blue uniform, and several years later wondered how his heavy woolen uniform still fit at 95 and my light-weight one didn’t at 25.

Now I don’t disagree with being able to protest any perceived grievance in our society. Almost no-one disagrees that not everyone in the country is accorded the same freedoms, and it is a good thing to be able to protest when something is believed to be wrong, but not when either of the two above events is occurring.

I taught high-school math for a time in several schools when the school was almost evenly divided between black children and those of Hispanic heritage. Virtually every one of those children had been taught by their parents to stand with their hands over their hearts when the flag was being saluted or the anthem was being played.

From the time I was about 6 years of age until I was 16 I went down to Broadway to watch the Independence Day parade. The crowd was always lighter as the parade came too soon after the Memorial Day event. But whoever was there gave the same deference to the flag and the anthem.

Of course, many of us have visited at least one of the many different cemeteries hosting the fallen from the War of Independence. When I lived in Marietta, Georgia, before moving back up north, I often visited the cemetery there, but on a day apart from July 4th as it was always very crowded that day.

One thing I noted at the various resting places: when a soldier was being given respect, the visitor often gave a salute as I have done even after I couldn’t fit into my uniform. And I still salute the flag at American Legion events and anywhere else I come across it, most often by holding my hand over my heart.

I believed it 55 years ago, and I’ve believed it ever since.