Lest We Forget: D-Day June 6, 1944 – My Father Was There

June 6, 1944 D-Day. Credit: National Archives

My dad was in the U.S. Navy and a “motor mac” (motor machinist mate) on a landing craft delivering troops to the beaches during the first two days of the invasion.

Robert J. O’Brien never told his family, especially his daughters, about that D-Day. That is, until I married a Navy veteran.

Robert Joseph O’Brien as a young sailor. The red stripe on his uniform indicates he’s part of the engineering department.

My dad shared a few of his memories with my husband. That’s how I learned he was there on the beaches of Normandy. Toward the end of his life, my dad agreed to sit down with me so I could record his thoughts.

He was a man of few words who could say more with a look, a smile or a nod.

He was even more so when talking about WWII. His description was sparse – except for his admiration for the pilots and paratroopers who blackened the sky above his craft. And for the men he delivered to the shores of Normandy.

He saw no heroism – no extraordinary human effort in what he did. In fact, his favorite phrase was “I was just doing my job.”

So, today I pay tribute to all who were there and did their job during such a pivotal moment in history.

And a daughter’s love for a special dad who after two days of facing combat was assigned to the burial detail on the beach – the hardest job of all – that he did with dignity and respect toward the fallen.


An Untold 9/11 Story from New York City’s Waterfront

9-11_screenshot_croppedOne of the little known stories of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City took place on the water.

All access to Manhattan was shut down after the attack. The tunnels. The bridges. The subways. The airports.

That left just the water surrounding the island. Some people reportedly started jumping into the river.

Boat captains from private vessels to public ferries responded.

Then a Coast Guard vessel put out a call for any available boats to come help evacuate the tip of Manhattan.

Within 15 minutes, a hundred vessels were on the horizon.

The water evacuation on September 11, 2001 of New York City is estimated to have been twice as big as the sea rescue at Dunkirk when an estimated 330,000 Allied troops evacuated from the beach during World War II.

Here’s an inspiring video featuring the voices of some of the seamen who came to the rescue.

My thanks to the crew of Tampa’s WWII SS American Victory Mariner’s Museum Ship for sharing this video that demonstrates the marine community’s strength and bravery in a time of need.

Former College Student, Now Army Wife After 9/11: I Get It …

The Dorr family when Jackie's husband returned from his fourth deployment in their five years of marriage.

Today is September 11, 2011. Ten years ago I was standing in my dorm room at the University of Florida, getting ready for my first class of the day, with the Today Show on in the background. I watched in disbelief as the first plane flew into the first tower. Like many Americans my first reaction was to pick up the phone and call someone, I called my mom. She was equally as shocked. Then there it was, a second plane. It’s a day my children will learn about in history class years from now, much like Pearl Harbor Day, yet they will never grasp the immense devastation this nation felt.

My father was still active duty at the time, and my family lived on Keesler AFB, a mere six hour drive from UF. My brother was still in high school, and he described that September day to me once I came back for a visit. School buses were stopped at the gates in backed up traffic, students were being checked for ID cards. Armed airmen patrolled the neighborhood by foot, etc.

Knowing that war was inevitable, I had made a decision that I wouldn’t ever marry anyone in the military. The future was uncertain, but one thing I think most people knew was that this wouldn’t be a quick fight, it would last a while.

My husband enlisted into the delayed entry program in 2002, a few years before we met. So here I am in a life I swore I wouldn’t live, raising children with a soldier, realizing that it is mission first. Being around the military changes your perspective on things, and last night couldn’t make that more clear.

Last night was date night, so Brian took me to the movies. I got dressed up, as did he and we made our way to the now outrageously overpriced movie theater. We had already decided weeks ago that we wanted to see “warrior”.

The main character is a Marine, and we find out later in the movie he deserted his unit in Iraq after being the only survivor of a friendly fire attack. The actual movie was naturally more drawn out and much more dramatic than that tiny snippet but that part resonated in my head. When you hear deserter you get mad, one thinks of a coward, traitor…. Right?

Paisley Dorr holding her and her sister's Daddy Dolls as she waits for her Daddy to come home March 2011.

I felt for him, on the drive home Brian and I discussed it, we understood it, did we think it was okay? No, of course not, but we got it. It reminded me on some level of a time when Brian was heading back after his R & R and there was a soldier who was catching a flight, but was meant to catch one on the previous day. I struck up conversation with him, while we stood in line at security. His family clung to him, much like I was clinging to Brian. I asked why he had missed his flight the day before, and he began to tell me how it was intentional.

He had contemplated deserting, never returning, it was his fourth deployment and he was tired. His sense kicked in, realizing the punishment wouldn’t get him what he wanted either, which was to be with his family, watch his children grow, be with his wife day in and day out. I find myself wondering what happened to him, and remember the feeling of shock at the time as I heard his story, but now….. I get it.

Someday children will read about all of this in history books, much like I read about WWI, WWII, and Vietnam. However, history books can never capture the human life experience that is living it. A history book won’t make someone say “I get it…’

The Library of Congress Wants Vets’ Stories

Robert Joseph O'Brien as a young sailor.

My dad, Robert Joseph O’Brien, was a WWII Navy veteran. On D-Day, he was part of a landing craft crew that took troops to shore, repeatedly, for two days. He then got put on burial detail.

Dad never talked about the Navy, D-Day or the war in general. I think in part it was because he had all daughters and didn’t think we’d understand. I would never have learned his story if he had not confided it to my husband, who told me.

Luckily, I was in radio and had the equipment 20 years ago to sit Dad down and record it. He was reticent, but shared enough detail so that I could produce a story for his grandchildren to hear and treasure. They played it the day we buried Dad at the National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

I share this because I know how important that recording is for my family and believe it’s the same for others.

The Veterans History Project seeks contributors.

Now, the Library of Congress is seeking help to compile the stories of all veterans for the Veterans History Project.

Whether you know a WWII veteran or a soldier just returned from Afghanistan, the Library of Congress wants your help recording their stories. The interviews can be audio or video and can be conducted by family, friends, neighbors or another veteran. The idea is to get the story.

Guidelines on how to participate, suggested questions and registration forms are all available on the Library of Congress web site . There’s also a “field kit” that can be downloaded.

In addition to individual interviews, a network of universities has been set up in Florida to help record veteran interviews. So far, three have signed up:
Florida State University Reichelt Oral History Program, Tallahassee at 850-644-4966 or rohp@fsu.edu.

University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Gainesville at 352-392-7168 or portiz@ufl.edu.

University of Central Florida RICHES Program, Orlando. Register online at www.ucf.edu (search under “Veterans History Project”) or call 407-823-0242.

To schedule a workshop, speaking engagement, or explore ways to collaborate with VHP in Florida, contact Jessica Souva at Jessica@jsouva.com.

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