Reasons why we won WW II (the Big One...

WANT TO HEAR 14

June 06, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

WANT TO HEAR 14 reasons why we won WW II (the Big One)? Listen to Rosemary Clooney's CD, "For the Duration."

She sings some of the songs that Americans sang back then -- songs that bathed wartime in a rosy glow that hid the grim and bloody reality of such events as D-Day. No pun on Rosemary. I mean "rosy" in the sense of optimism and romance.

That's true not only of such ballads as "I Don't Want To Walk Without You, Baby"; "These Foolish Things Remind Me of You"; "I'll Walk Alone"; and such ditties as "They're Either Too Young or Too Old"; "Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night of the Week." Even "For All We Know We May Never Meet Again" was not as fatalistic as its title implies.

About a decade after those songs were off the Hit Parade, I was assigned to write an anniversary feature story based on interviews with veterans who went in on Omaha Beach in the first wave on June 6, 1944. I expected to hear tales of gallantry and derring-do, of pride and happy memories. St. Crispin's Day stuff. John Wayne stuff.

But one after another of the still young veterans I met talked only of the fear, confusion, mistakes and, over and over again, the bloody horror and unfairness of being in that sort of combat that day. I didn't expect that. I wasn't ready for that.

I am not talking about whiners, or cowards or injustice collectors or the permanently maimed in mind or body who just couldn't get over it. Nobody got over it.

Some of those veterans I interviewed were decorated heroes. Some could even make a joke or two and recount an anecdote with nostalgia, but their descriptions of what it was like in Normandy on D-Day made every wartime war movie (scripts approved by the Office of War Information) and a lot of the journalism (reportage approved by military censors) seem like a lie. Even that earlier, most famous and enduring description, "war . . . is all hell," was an understatement. William Tecumseh Sherman never saw anything like D-Day.

True realism has been evident in the reporting and commentary leading up to today's anniversary. But even it is softer than in my old interviews -- 50 years have passed instead of 15; time may not heal all wounds, but it makes accommodation with them easier.

Noting the continued popularity of the wartime songs, Nick Clooney said of his sister's CD when it came out in 1991, "the duration turned out to be forever."

That's true for the survivors of D-Day. They consider themselves lucky, compared to their buddies who were killed. But even the least harmed, least haunted of them, when compared to the rest of us, who never had to experience what they did, then live with the memories of it, really weren't so lucky.

Like the dead of D-Day, they deserve all the respect and appreciation the world is bestowing on them.

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