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Monday, June 4, 2012

D-Day in a Small Texas Town

D-Day in a Small Town

I’ve always been a chump for memories of my childhood up in the Texas Panhandle. Probably just like many of you have of your own youth.

We didn’t have much, but then neither did anyone else except for a few business owners and big ranchers. None of us were really poor. We always had our three meals a day, occasional movies (we called them picture shows—and even today, that euphemism still slips out)

A few days back, I ran across a column I had written a few years back regarding D-Day in an effort to capture a small country town’s reaction to such a momentous event in history.

I thought my readers might enjoy it once again.

June 6, 1944 was the first Tuesday after school was turned out for the summer in Wheeler, Texas. It meant nothing to any of us. We had never heard the term ‘D-Day.’

You see, D-Day was just a common name routinely given to the date of every planned offensive during World War II. It was coined in World War I before the massive U.S. attack at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in France. And so naturally, it was applied to the Invasion of Normandy as it was all major offensives.

As I mentioned, we kids in that little Texas town far up in the Panhandle knew nothing of D-Day. For us, it was summer, free, joyous summer. As every summer, the first couple weeks, we’d ride our bikes along the hard-packed roads, through the forest the community called a park, jump the creek, rumble over ancient, wood-plank bridges, and lie in the shade after dinner (our noon meal) staring at the fluffy clouds drifting by in the sky as blue as robin’s egg. If you used your imagination, you could spot every animal on Noah’s ark plus a bunch that had missed it.

After all these years, my memory’s sort of shaky, but it was either Tuesday or Wednesday of that week that to my chagrin, I learned had had to chop cotton instead of a carefree ride around town on my trusty New Departure bicycle.

Dad was overseas, and Mom had planted five acres of corn that she planned on us selling in nearby Pampa and Shamrock to earn some extra money.

So I wasn’t in a good mood, and I probably chopped more cornstalks than I did weeds until she caught me.

The third time she yelled at me, she started looking around for something to switch my legs.

To my relief, Papa Conwell drove up about then. My brother, Sammy, was just a toddler, so Mom picked him up and we hurried to the end of the row to see what Papa wanted. I was hoping he wanted to take me out to his lake, but that wasn’t why he was there.

Wartime in a small town back then was much different than it would be today. Everyone was caught up in it. Radios were always turned to the news. Of course most of the news was weeks old, but for the last month or so, rumors had been thick and heavy that something big was going to happen. All the grown-ups speculated as to what might take place.

From the old boys down at the pool hall to the local preachers, everyone thought he knew what the Allied Forces had up their sleeve. Now, let me point out here that there was never any doubt in anyone’s mind that America would win the war. No matter how long it took, we would prevail. I can’t help wondering what some of those old-timers back then would think of us today.

Anyway, back to my story.

When we reached Papa’s car, he didn’t even say ‘hi’. All he said was ‘We invaded Normandy.”

The only word I understood in his statement was we. I wasn’t really sure what ‘invaded’ meant, and I certainly had no idea what a ‘Normandy’ was.

Mom was excited, and a bit frightened.

For the next few days, our little town didn’t come to a standstill, but it came as close as it could and still keep functioning. Crops had to be looked after, animals tended, mail delivered, and such. Everything else was just about shut down. Folks were glued to the radio while others frequented the newspaper office where breaking news was posted on the front window.

Over the next few days, we learned more. There was happiness and joy in our little town, and unfortunately as the news came in, it also brought some grief.

The Invasion of Normandy was epic, a savage battle that lasted for eleven months until May 1945 when Germany capitulated.

And then we turned the Lions of War loose on Japan.

Within a few months, it was over.

Back in the Panhandle, the nearest train station was in Shamrock, sixteen miles to the south of us. I’ll never forget that day we drove over and waited on the platform for Dad to step off the train.

The Greatest Generation had brought peace back to America and pulled a common name, D-Day, from obscurity and held it up for the world to forever recognize.

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