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.
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.
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.