The sacrifices of D-Day don't stop with the best known heroes
Soon it will be another June 6. On that date, we will commemorate the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy, the landings that nearly ended in disaster for the Allies, but which, after horrendous cost in lives, crashed through the walls of Nazi Fortress Europe. The road to victory would be long and bloody, but the evil scourge of Nazism would finally end.
While history records the deaths of men in battle by numbering them in the many thousands, there is another way to count them: by ones. Each white cross is a separate memorial to a separate life, a life that came to an abrupt end, a death remembered individually by grieving widows and orphans, by bereaved parents and siblings.
One of those men was paratrooper Thomas Meehan, first lieutenant, United States Army. He is briefly portrayed in the HBO movie Band of Brothers, preparing his men for battle, but he himself died almost at the outset. His death was not of the sort that movie producers tend to glamorize. Instead, he died unnoticed in the first few minutes of the invasion, riding in a C-47 transport plane that was shot down by enemy soldiers. The plane crashed, killing all on board. The men never got to fire a shot.
There were many such deaths. Many paratroopers landed in flooded fields only to drown. Hundreds died in accidents while training for the landings. Each was a unique individual, son of a loving mother, tragically converted to a number on a casualty list.
Thomas Meehan graduated from Germantown High School in 1939 and went on to study to become a commercial artist, but before he could complete his training, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and received a commission as an officer in the airborne infantry. In so many ways, and like so many others, Meehan's life was a journey along an ordinary path, but a path that, as for so many, came to a sudden and violent end — not in what one might call a blaze of glory, but almost anonymously.
He was reported as "missing" for several years until finally the crash site and wreckage were located. With that, whatever faint but fervent hope his wife and daughter may have nurtured was crushed in that unfathomable hybrid of brutal compassion, the cruel mercy of certainty.
On this coming anniversary of the invasion, let us take a moment or two to reflect on the thousands of Thomas Meehans — but in so doing, let us not lump them all together. Of course, it is emotionally impossible to single out each one of them. For my part, I shall meditate a moment on my mother's cousin, "Mikey," who died in battle on Okinawa in 1945. You might ask around for relatives and neighbors to give you a name, something to separate one white cross from the sea of them that form our battlefield cemeteries.
If that search yields no name, then remember Thomas Meehan, a true hero, who died for our freedom.
Image via Good Free Photos.