Today is the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the day Germany surrendered and ended World War II in Europe. It has put me in a reflective mood, since my grandfather, who passed away last September, was in Europe that day. He was in Lippstadt, Germany, a few days away from turning 21 years old.
Grandpa loved to tell stories of his time in the service during World War II, and his family loved to hear them. When I was in Grand Rapids for his memorial service, I pulled out one of his books about the war, Stephen Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers. I found that he had occasionally underlined and written notes on events in the book that he had a personal connection to, particularly those having to do with Operation Cobra toward the end of July, 1944.
Here is the description of Operation Cobra in my grandpa’s own words, from a booklet of reminiscences that he and my uncle Jim put together several years ago:
I was on guard duty at our airfield as the sun came up one morning probably around the middle to the end of July 1944 when I heard the drone of bombers coming from England. There were probably about 150 planes in each separate formation. They flew over all day about 10,000 sorties in all. They were dropping bombs on the German divisions that were inland about 10 to 20 miles from the Normandy beaches. These divisions were blocking our ground forces who were trying to advance into France and unto Paris.
I could see the smoke bombs and flares launched by Allied artillery to pinpoint where the front lines were. This enabled the Allied bombers to avoid our forces and drop their bombs on the German forces. The wind however carried some of the smoke back over into the Allied lines and caused our bombers to drop explosives on our troops. The commanding general at the front line of the battle was General McNair. A misplaced bomb killed him that day. A few weeks later I stood at General McNair’s grave in the American cemetery a short way in from the Normandy beach. A small wooden temporary cross listed his name only, not that he was the commanding general. In death he was the same as all of the soldiers he commanded.
I’m thankful that my grandpa loved telling his story. Even from the way these notes are written, it seems to me that he wanted other people to see them. I know that, for one reason or another, many people don’t like telling their stories, especially the parts that are painful to them. My grandpa’s love for telling his own stories serves as a reminder to me that people’s stories are valuable. They help make sense of the world, help other people feel like they are not alone, and especially in my grandpa’s case, help to testify to God’s goodness.