At the age of 35, my uncle, Army Private 1st Class Raymond Lund, would have been considered the old man of his outfit, Company C. of the 357th infantry.
Most of the soldiers who climbed over the side of their ship and down the rope ladder to waiting landing craft below on D-Day, were 10 to 15 years younger than he was.
I wonder if those scared boys, huddled together in their battle gear, looked to him for reassurance as the diesel-powered Higgins boat moved agonizingly slow towards Utah Beach at Normandy that June 6th in 1944.
Was he saying the Lord’s Prayer in Norwegian, like he’d been taught as a child, while German shells exploded all around and bullets from machine guns made a loud clanging noise as they slammed into the still closed ramp?
D-Day June 6th, 1944 What went through his mind when that ramp was lowered and his comrades were cut down as they tried to advance toward shore through a hail of fire?
Uncle Ray survived what’s been called “The Longest Day” only to have his hand nearly blown off in combat a month later fighting the Nazis among the Normandy hedge rows.
Ray’s war was over.
After receiving a Purple Heart in a field hospital, he was sent home to spend the next 15 months recuperating from his wounds.
Like so many other veterans of battle, Uncle Ray never talked about it.
As a kid I couldn’t help but stare at his scarred-up hand with the missing little finger but of course I’d never dare ask details about how it happened.
And now it’s too late.
Ray took his memories and nightmares of the war to his grave in 1986.
On this 75th anniversary of D-day I’m wishing I knew the answers to so many questions about my quiet, self-effacing uncle and the role he played in the invasion but, like many other World War II vets, his service record was lost in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973. All we know is what’s on his discharge papers.
I’m also curious as to why he “enlisted” when he was nearly 34 leaving a pretty young wife stateside to worry?
There’s no one left who knows for sure..but one thing I do know is how proud our family is of Uncle Ray and his service and sacrifice for these United States of America.