The Passing of the Torch
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
NEW ORLEANS, June 8, 2000 Music can sometimes give you a shiver down your back.
For me, it was hearing the Army Song while I was standing with a group of D-Day veterans at the military parade here in honor of the opening of the National D-Day Museum.
The group I was standing with had men from the 1st Infantry Division, 29th Infantry Division and 4th Infantry Division. The 1st and 29th landed into the chaos of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. The men of the 4th landed at Utah Beach.
|Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force. You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you." |
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
June 6, 1944
The men, the youngest in his late 70s, looked like your average retired dad or grandfather. They had been talking about their ailments and who had died since they had last seen each other. They were talking about vacations to see the kids and grandkids and how one of the men, confined to a wheelchair now, used to be able to smack a golf ball like Tiger Woods.
A Louisiana National Guard band, all dressed in BDUs, was marching down the street. The leader did his movements with the baton and the band broke into the Army Song.
These gentlemen stopped talking and turned toward the band. They stood straight and sang the words -- not the new ones nobody knows, but the ones about caissons rolling along. That’s when the shivers started going down my spine. It was obvious that I was standing among heroes who believed in what they did and would do it again if called on. Fifty-six years after the defining day of their lives, these men were quietly proud of what they had accomplished.
Behind the band was a marching company of soldiers. When the company commander spotted the group of vets he ordered “Eyes, right!” and whipped a salute on those men that would have made a ceremonial unit proud.
The men of D-Day returned the salute of today’s military with all the panache they could muster. The crowd around the men broke into cheers as they became aware of the honor the marching soldiers were paying to their predecessors. It was the present saluting the past and vowing to continue the legacy. After the company passed, many in the crowd came to shake the men’s hands and thank them for their courage, bravery and sacrifices.
There were few dry eyes in the crowd around these veterans. I have to admit I teared up pretty good myself.
The D-Day vets seemed slightly embarrassed by all the attention, but they understood the symbology. One vet turned to his friends and said, “I guess the torch is passed.”