D-Day, the seaborne invasion that contributed to an Allied victory in World War II, was commemorated on June 6. Father’s Day was June 15. Last week I received a letter in the mail that brought both events home for me in a very poignant way.

My friend Peggy raised her kids in Oakland; they now live on the East Coast. Her son Samuel will be married soon. Twenty years ago this month, Samuel asked my father to offer his perspective on D-Day for his class. Retired Air Force Colonel Irv Hirschfield, who passed away four years ago at the age of 97, wrote Samuel a thoughtful four-page letter containing his impressions of the event that proved to be a turning point in the war.

Peggy just returned the letter to me, and it reminded me of why they now refer to men like my father, who grew up during the deprivation of the Great Depression and then went on to fight in World War II, as the “Greatest Generation.”

Irv pointed out early in the letter that his viewpoint was “of someone whose greatest regret is that I did not participate in the invasion of the mainland of Europe.” He explained: “Several of my father’s family were slaughtered by Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, so that I had a good reason for wanting to personally take care of removing some Nazis from this world.”

Instead, fate (and the U.S. Air Force) sent him to the Pacific theater of operations against Japan.

While he was attending the Command and General Staff College, he studied the invasion plans for D-Day, which was referred to by its code name, “Overlord.” He recounted how his only brother-in-law (my uncle) was killed at the Battle of the Bulge after the Normandy landing, and how his brother participated in every landing across North Africa prior to D-Day, as well as in Italy. “My souvenir of his experiences is a Luger pistol he took from a German officer who surrendered,” he wrote.

My dad was on the famous General Jimmy Doolittle’s General Staff on Okinawa when the Japanese surrendered. “I have handled the controls of just about every fighter plane and bomber during the war,” he wrote with evident pride. About D-Day he said, “It was the beginning of the end for one of history’s most evil excuses for a human being (Hitler) and his followers.”

His message to young Samuel included a cautionary note: “War is really not glamorous — on land, on the sea or in the air!” And finally, “I pray that your generation will never have to participate in a war like that one.”

Tom Brokaw argued in his book The Greatest Generation that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the “right thing to do.”

When my father returned to the States after the war and looked for work, he encountered anti-Semitism and other challenges of peacetime.

On the day before he died, he became delusional, and I heard him reference General Jimmy Doolittle.

Happy belated Father’s Day, Dad, and thank you for your service.

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