Odd Thoughts: Dodgers or not, they beat the odds

Much of the world marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that is generally considered as having marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

Actually, what they generally miss – or at least gloss over – in nearly all of the war movies about that amazing assault involving hundreds of thousands of participants and organizers working in what may well be unparalleled harmony is that the war was nowhere near its end that day.

In fact, the whole thing looked rather dicey, from the Allied perspective. When the sun set on June 6, 1944, only one contingent – as it happens, the Canadians who landed on Juno Beach – had met its objectives.

The Americans and British did not achieve what they’d set out to do, and wouldn’t for another couple of days.

More importantly, there was still a heckuva lot of Europe to cross – for nearly a year.

The only real blessing is that, despite the deaths and dismemberments of tens of thousands of soldiers who hit those beaches that fine day, the percentage of losses turned out to be dramatically lower than had been expected when the boats set sail from English shores.

That translated into literally thousands more men who returned home to their wives and children, or to their mothers and fathers, or survived to raise families of their own with whom they had the opportunity to grow old.

It may easily be forgotten that many Fathers Days were celebrated happily over the years because the casualty estimates for D-Day were higher than the final outcome.

But then, lots of things have been forgotten since that war played out.

It’s forgotten that, two days before D-Day, Allied soldiers marched into Rome, as part of the Italy Campaign that was so sorely misunderstood that those who took part in it were labelled

“D-Day Dodgers” by none other than Lady Astor (whose credentials for understanding danger in warfare were limited to her notable battles with Winston Churchill).

My father-in-law was one of those D-Day Dodgers.

Funny, the little he dared talk about his experiences didn’t sound like he was dodging anything. Indeed, the fact that he didn’t say much spoke volumes.

I know he was injured badly, and spent a great deal of time in the torture chambers that were certainly jokingly referred to as hospitals.

Being pinned under a tank, soaked in gasoline and begging his buddies to shoot him if he started to burn before he could be extricated, didn’t sound like fun to me.

He wasn’t expected to go home with his legs, but somehow beat those odds.

The joys of fighting in Italy instead of the tougher theatres was chronicled in a little ditty, We are the D-Day Dodgers, written by one of the “lucky” souls who managed to side-step the Normandy Invasion.

Look it up on YouTube. It’s absolutely hilarious. It became quite popular among those who were targeted by Lady Astor’s disdain.

More sad than Astor’s unwarranted denigration, however, is the dismissal of the Italy Campaign as a mere sideshow (when remembered at all) to the European conquest.

My family – I was still two brothers away from being born – was in Holland at the time, suffering under a ruthless occupation of a foreign country, spending the last part of the war underground, on the invaders’ hit list.

My Dad didn’t speak much of that, either, but the stories he told could raise the hair on the back of my neck.

War lessened the odds, but he – and other fathers – survived to celebrate many, many Fathers Days.

This year is my first without him. Damn.

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