On 6 June 2019, it is the 75th anniversary of D-day. From 2002, the 58th anniversary, my D-day commemorations in Normandy started. An annual pilgrimage to the beaches where veterans are wandering around, to never forget, to commemorate their comrades.
Now 75 years later they still do so. Most of them have passed the age of 90 years, they stretch their backbones as soon as "their" commemoration begins.
During thirteen years, until 2015 I joined them, filmed and photographed them, talked with them. Their stories, film, and photos have found a place on my website www.backtonormandy.org. Back to Normandy.
One by one I saw them fade away. Usually “their" D-day was recalled during the farewell. In style. For the few veterans who had no family, often spontaneous commemorations at their funeral were arranged by other veterans or their family and friends.
The missions of these veterans, which began on 6 June 1944 and would take nearly a year, stayed on their mind. Sometimes for years, they did not talk about it. Sometimes being present, with twinkling medals, at the commemorations, with the military salute and to meet their comrades that survived the "European Theatre of Operations". And that was a rarity for the front soldiers. The composition of a division at the beginning and the end of the "Road to Freedom" was often changed more than 80%. In other words, most of them did not reach the finishing line.
I (Back to Normandy) commemorate not just that day in June 1944, but also the months following where many sacrificed their life. We own our freedom to their sacrifice.
I did my part by trying to pay my respect, not only on the 4 or 5 May commemorations in Holland. Also not by celebrating in Normandy around June 6. Because that is what it is nowadays, a party. The stories what really happened are disappearing to the background. The wars of today now take possession of the collective consciousness. This war is permanently in black and white.
I have had my share in trying to deliver their stories, building my website. Especially names, names, and names. But also in locations: maps full of markers that tell a story, one even more intense than the other. 140,000 stories and the names of tens of thousands of military units that were almost forgotten. Regularly family of these units write to me with their story: that was my family!
I also had my music, fortunately. To “digest” all I heard, read or saw, into my music. Unwittingly we got a reward in the form of an Emmy Award for the documentary for which I wrote the music for. The music notes themselves were also good: for me a Buma Award nomination in the Netherlands.
Remembering D-day. This year we will stay at home. I will probably put “The Longest Day” on the DVD player. And maybe after that “Saving Private Ryan” with the impressive first scene, the landing on Omaha Beach. My wife Hilke and I met the real veterans, who landed there. My usual joke is always: "John Williams wrote the music for the film Saving Private Ryan a film with actors, but I wrote the music for the real veterans who tell their story about the same scene/situation in the documentary Omaha Beach, Honor and Sacrifice. I will play this documentary. Every year.
Photo: Steve Melnikoff 29 Infantry Division and me.
Here you can view and listen to my tribute: Normandy Cemetery and Memorial: https://www.fredvogels.nl/normandy-cemetery-and-memorial-usa