Father’s Day is this coming Sunday. I will pick up my father Gene, age 91, at his Novato home and drive to Berkeley to visit my son Sam, age 34, and his two twin 20-month-old sons Arthur and Ocean - four generations of Malkemus men. Arthur is a family name, my grandfather's first name and Sam’s and Gene’s middle name. Of course, all three wives, Mary Alice, Marina and Marge, will be involved at the father’s day BBQ as well. At the end of this month my son Sam and his family will be moving to the L section in Rohnert Park, so happily my family will be even closer. My son Don and his wife Kendra are in Vietnam for one year teaching English as a second language, so we will Skype with them on Sunday. We live in amazing times, when the communication around the world is instantly available with cell phones and computers. They are having a wonderful adventure together before settling down and raising a family.
On June 6th, the 73rd anniversary of D-Day was celebrated. My father was at D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, France in 1944. With Father’s Day near, I want to personally thank my father for his part in helping to end World War II, along with his fellow veterans. Reflecting on D-Day remembrance, reminds me of the extraordinary sacrifice, achievement and triumph of my father’s generation. Reflecting on those times, gives me hope for us to overcome the challenge we face today.
D-Day on June 6th commemorates the landing of 160,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy, France in 1944. It was a significant victory in the effort to gain entry into Europe and finally face down the Nazi forces. The landing in Normandy was enabled by the support of over 5,000 vessels and 13,000 aircraft. More than 4,000 Allied soldiers perished and about 6,000 more were wounded during the assault. But over 100,000 troops were able to take and hold the beach. By the end of June, hundreds of thousands more followed and began the long journey across Europe to put an end to the war. Today, D-Day is remembered with ceremonies, firework displays, concerts, parachute drops, reenactments, historical tours, memorials, and peace walks.
At the age of 18, my father was Navy engineer on a LST [Landing Ship Tank] #48 at the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. His ship unloaded Rangers on the first wave at Omaha beach, the bloodiest sacrifice during D-Day, as depicted in ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ My father said none of the landing crafts from his ship made it to the beach. They all were blown out of the water before reaching 100 yards from the beach. His ship spent the next 3 days picking up the wounded and the dead soldiers. For the next 3 weeks his ship traveled between Normandy and England, taking the wounded and prisoners to England and returning with more soldiers and equipment for the invasion across Europe. He helped the medics with wounded soldiers. He remembers holding down one young soldier while a medic placed his eye back in its socket.
It is amazing how quickly and dramatically my father grew up through The Great Depression and then World War II. He became an old salt at age 22, being in the Navy during WW II from age 17. I never heard him talk about the war growing up. He and his friends were moving on with their lives, working to make a better life for their families. My father is a wonderful positive human being. He always says, “ What a beautiful day! Isn’t it great to be alive?” Ten years ago, at age 81, my father decided he wanted to return to Normandy. He had never been back to those memorable beaches.
So late May, 2007, my father, my two sons, Sam and Don, my father’s good friend Chester Young and I traveled to Europe for the D-Day celebrations. Chester was a Jeep scout for the infantry, which hiked and fought their way from Luxembourg to Berlin. Chester also had never been back. We flew directly to Frankfurt, Germany and then drove to Normandy across much of Chester’s route. He was most interested in the infamous Rhine crossing at St. Goar. His unit had crossed in inflatable rafts during the middle of the night. But due to the current, they had been swept down stream where the Germans had turned on spotlights and hundreds of GI lives were lost before achieving success on the other side. We ferried across the exact spot where he had been.
In Normandy, we stayed in a bed and breakfast home owned by a retired British Calvary General. His passion is D-Day military history. He took us on private insightful guided tours of the invasion area. D-Day and the liberation of Normandy is a two-week celebration there. Every small town in Normandy has their own weeklong celebration. French and Belgium men and women do re-enactments and set up camps with WWII tents, jeeps, trucks, Sherman’s tanks and gear. We saw a dramatic parachute re-enactment with over one hundred GI drops. World War II veterans are revered in Normandy; the WWII re-enactors all wanted their picture taken with my father and Chester. One picture has Chester holding a Tommy gun in front of a WWII jeep, both of which he used during the War. On D-Day, they were honored on stage at the American cemetery with about 30 other WWII veterans. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived by helicopter and spoke at the 63rd D-Day Memorial.
One story from the trip that stands out in my mind occurred during the flight there. While feeling like a cramped sardine in my tight coach seat next to my father, I noticed him gazing at the in-flight screen. I asked him what he was staring at. He replied that it is amazing we can be doing this. I asked what he meant. He pointed to the in-flight screen that showed our flight line, presently over Greenland, flight velocity 649 mph, wind velocity 322 mph, time to arrival 5:56 hrs. He said, “We are traveling at over 900 mph and only have 6 hours to go!” I asked him how long it took the last time he came. He thought for about a few minutes and said, “It took about 30 days from New York to London; we were averaging 4 knots.”
He went on to say, “The most difficult thing was that our ship was hit by a terrible storm and the ship cracked in half. We had to leave our convoy and travel with the storm for 4 days so it wouldn’t sink.’ “What do you mean, it cracked in half?” “ Well, it had a crack all the way through the center of the ship. The worst thing was the water lines and the sewer lines were broken, so we didn’t have any water and couldn’t use the head, plus we were not allowed to go on deck because it was too dangerous.” “Really, that is terrible!” “Yeh, but I had a buddy named Joe who after the 3rd day, had to use the head so bad that he said he was going on deck and he wanted me to help him. I said that there was nothing I could do to help him. He said just watch me from the hatch, so you can report if I get washed overboard. The swells were huge, the trough to the crest of the wave seemed longer than the ship. The LST was 327 ft long. Joe proceeded to drop his drawers and locked himself in between two parallel stainless steel rails with his butt hanging over the side. The ship had over a hundred tanks tethered on deck and some had broken away and were bouncing around like ping pong balls. Luckily they all missed Joe. But then a big garbage can broke away and smashed into Joe. Thankfully Joe hung on and I help him get back down the hatch, but his face was bleeding and he had a couple of broken teeth. I couldn’t tell if he was smiling or grimacing.”
After hearing my dad’s story, I realized it was truly amazing that we were flying to Germany in a few hours. I decided to never complain about an uncomfortable flight again. It was total luxury! Oh, how much the world has changed and how we should appreciate what we have. Let us overcome today’s challenges.
We definitely live in amazing times. Let us cherish and help preserve this wonderful life and beautiful earth. Have a great Father’s Day; I know I will!
PS. I have to celebrate the Warriors Championship on Monday, 129 to 120 win over Cleveland, 16 -1 playoff run. A life long Warriors fan, living through so many years of dysfunctional losing, it has been fun to watch a truly sharing team
Enjoy Life and Keep Smiling!
George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@ malkemusdds.com. Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at http://www.malkemusdds.com