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Saturday, June 6, 2015

June 6th 1944 D-Day

71 years ago today Allied forces invaded Normandy. That's 25 years before I was born, but I grew up knowing that WW II was the good war, the Nazis were bad guys and we won.

I have gamed WW II a lot. I probably started as a kid just playing at war with my friends. I also played with toy soldiers with my friends, and we almost always fought WW II. When I started wargaming I played a lot of WW II games, and when I play wargames these days, it still almost always a WW II game. Axis & Allies, 3rd Reich, Soldiers, Hitler's War, Squad Leader, Up Front, Europa, no matter what the scale or complexity I've pretty much played it. My first foray into miniatures wargaming was with HO scale WW II minis, and I still have a pretty good sized collection of 28mm WW II stuff for Bolt Action and my B/X WW II hack. Opponents being more difficult to find as I get older, I play out WW II on my PC. I've played a handful of first person shooters and RTS games set during WW II, but mostly I play the kind of games I'd play if I had an opponent here at my house- essentially computerized board games. I loved Panzer General back in the day, and I play it's spiritual descendant Panzer Corps still today. Just yesterday I played Front Line: Road to Moscow for a while.

But WW II was more than just a setting for some of my favorite games. My paternal grandfather, a hal dozen or so great-uncles, 3 of my uncles and one of my aunts, and more cousins than I can count served in the US armed forces during WW II. One of my great-uncles died in North Africa, leaving my father's first cousin fatherless. Most of them were enlisted, a couple were officers. Some never saw combat, most did. My father's first cousin was seriously wounded and captured in Italy. My mother's oldest brother came back with malaria that would regularly flare up until the day he died. They were pilots, sailors, ambulance drivers and mostly infantrymen. They fought in every theater of the war that had US troops.

WW II loomed large over my childhood. My parents were both born during the war. My grandfather taught me to fight and shoot using the same techniques that he taught young GIs how to kill Germans. A lady that lived around the corner, with kids not much older than me, was a holocaust survivor. My elementary school bus driver had been pressed into the Hitler Youth as a kid in Lithuania. My wife's grandfather had served as an infantryman in the 28th division during the battle of the bulge, his wife, her grandmother was an army nurse during the war.

I think it's odd that in the US we have Memorial Day, commemorating the end of the Civil War, and Veteran's Day for WW I; but nothing particular for WW II. We remember, some of us anyway, D-Day and Pearl Harbor Day, maybe V-E Day or V-J day, but there isn't a national holiday commemorating the end of mankind's most destructive conflict, a conflict that ushered in the atomic era and catapulted the US to superpower status.

Most of my relatives that fought in that war are dead now. I guess it makes sense, it was 70+ years ago. I am middle-aged now, and they were all pretty old when I was a kid. I really miss them though. They loved Roosevelt and the New Deal, because they lived through the depression. They loved America as you only can when there is serious sacrifice involved. They weren't perfect, but they were, by and large, pretty decent folks. This being one of those remembered anniversarys, I am thinking about them.

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