Memorial Day

In May of 2001 I went to Normandy with a veteran of the 82nd Airborne who had parachuted behind the German lines in the early hours of June 4, 1944.

His name was Dr. Rufus Broadaway, and he had not been back since the war. His reason? He had “other things to do.” He was a retired vascular surgeon, had practiced in Miami for over 40 years, and was one of the founders of a major hospital.

"Iron Mike" memorial at La Fiere Causeway
“Iron Mike” memorial at La Fiere Causeway

But he agreed to go back with me, and also agreed to wear a wireless microphone and let me shoot video. I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, a videographer, but I proved once again that subject matter often trumps skill.

Video or no video, I will never forget that trip. Ever.

Rufus and his platoon flew from Britain to a designated drop zone behind the German lines. The mission of the 82nd Airborne was to capture Ste. Mere Eglise, and to then secure critical crossing points along the Meredet River. One such crossing was La Fiere Causeway. (Everything you need to know is at Mission Boston. Also see Iron Mike memorial at La Fiere Causeway.

Rufus had vague memories of Ste. Mere Eglise. But it was at La Fiere Causeway that the memories came back. He remembered the flooded river, the old manor house, the hole in the stone wall … and the casualties.

It was during a walk up the road leading away from the causeway that Rufus stopped, looked up ahead, and then said “Come on. I want to show you something.” He took me to a tall hedge along the road. “It was here, I’m sure it was here: I was standing next to one of my buddies. We knew the Germans were somewhere on the other side. I threw a hand grenade over, it exploded, then I looked over at my buddy just as he was shot in the head.”

He was quiet for a very long time. Then he turned to me and said: “That changed me.”

The next day we went to the cemetery at Omaha Beach. The superintendent of the cemetery welcomes Normandy veterans with a little ceremony. The superintendent and the veteran stand at attention, taps is played, and then the veteran walks into the cemetery.

Marion and Rufus Broadaway on Omaha Beach
Marion and Rufus Broadaway on Omaha Beach

As Rufus walked up to the memorial inside the entrance, an American tourist, wearing shorts, a tee shirt and a John Deere hat – he was maybe 35 – walked up to Rufus, shook his hand, and said “I want to thank you for everything you did for our country.”

Like a lot of us, Normandy was something he read about in a history book. But he knew, somewhere in his patriotic soul, what the cost of Allied lives meant.

I don’t like war and death. Who does? And I happily confirm my liberal tendencies. But political preferences have nothing to do with patriotism. There are people who are fighting for our freedom today, no matter how poorly conceived or poorly planned or politically tainted these conflicts might be. Our soldiers and sailors are doing their duty, and this Memorial Day like every other day of the year we must thank them and support them.

The young man at Omaha Beach thanked Rufus for what he did for our country.

I thank Rufus too. May the freedoms you and your buddies fought for never die.

Photos by Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is a professional mentalist and mind reader who presents his unique and unforgettable program to conventions, college and universities, sales meetings, private parties, business and civic clubs and more. He has also appeared at the Punchline Comedy Club in Atlanta and produces, along with Jerry Farber and Joe M. Turner, Atlanta Magic Night at the Red Light Cafe in Midtown. He is a member of the Psychic Entertainers Association, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the Georgia Magic Club,Buckhead Rotary Club and Friends of Jim The Wonder Dog. You can learn more at He is the author of three books: "Living The Dream," the story of the first ten years of FedEx; "Superman, Hairspray, and the Greatest Goat On Earth," a collection of mostly true stories;, and "Yes Ma'am, You're Right: The Essential Rules For Living With A Woman."  Mark's day job is as a freelance writer and communications and marketing consultant. Mark has traveled around the world twice but has never been to Burlington, Vermont. He does not eat beets or chicken livers, and he has never read "Gone With The Wind." He is the only person he knows who was once a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists. He is a fifth generation Atlantan,  the father of three, and the grandfather of five. All offspring are demonstrably perfect. He lives in Smyrna with his wife Rebecca (aka The Goddess) and two dogs: Ferguson, an arrogant Scottish terrier; and, Lola, a Siberian husky who is still trying to figure out what the hell she's doing in Cobb County.