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The Greatest Generation

June 8, 2018

June 6, 2004 was the 60th anniversary of D-Day. It happened to fall on a Sunday, and for the occasion, I wrote and sang a song during the Sunday service at my church, the First Congregational Church in Thetford (parenthetically, the oldest church building in continuous operation in the State).

Before I performed the song, I said to those gathered that I imagined there were some people in the congregation who remembered where they were on June 6, 1944.

Later, during the time of the service set aside for “joys and concerns,” an older gentleman, who I had seen on previous Sundays but with whom I had never spoken, stood up and said that he remembered where he was on June 6, 1944: he was landing on Utah Beach with the first wave of the 4th Infantry Division. That man was Wes Burnham, who was descended from some of Thetford’s earliest settlers. Wes later invited me to his home where he shared his war-time experiences with me (in sum, he never returned to England until the war was over, he took part in the liberation of Paris, saw action during the Battle of the Bulge, never saw a USO show at any time, and somehow emerged, in his words, “without a scratch”).

I learned yesterday that Wes Burnham died at the age of 94.

Fittingly, he passed away on Memorial Day.

Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have composed a poem that she recited every night during the war, the last line of which I lifted and which served as the last line of the song I performed on June 6, 2004:

Dear Lord,

Lest I continue
My complacent way,
Help me to remember that somewhere,
Somehow out there
A man died for me today.
As long as there be war,
I then must
Ask and answer
Am I worth dying for?

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