The Day of Days

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As the world remembers D-Day on its 75th anniversary, Andrew Lewis remembers a family member who fought there and his sad, unforgivable fate.

It was the Day of Days.

On the eve of the invasion, the chief commander drafted a letter in the event of defeat. “The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do,” he wrote. “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

Before dawn, 13,000 boys fell out of the sky, plummeting into the hedgerows and fields of western France. My step-mother’s father was one of them. Don Bowman was a radio man in C Company, 501st Regiment, 101st Airborne. Each by each, the boys flew off the stick and tumbled into the air filled with artillery fire. One out of every five died that day. Bowman did not.

There was the Day of Days.


And then there were the days after. Bowman’s military record tells the barest outline of his story. That summer and winter, he and his fellow soldiers of the 101st fought their way across Europe. Operation Market Garden. The Ardenne. Battle of the Bulge. Liberation of Dachau. Eagles Nest. One Purple Heart. A Bronze Star for meritorious valor.

Bullet after bullet.

Medal after medal.

Body after body.

Until victory was had.

But even in victory, the price paid cannot be measured. In 1969, now estranged from his wife and child, alone in Los Angeles, an alcoholic traumatized by war, Don Bowman purchased himself a cemetery plot. When asked to list friends and family, he wrote, “None.”

Those boys risked and gave their lives to save Europe. And now that confederation is being abandoned for want of leadership and the erosive force of nationalist and isolationist fervor.

On this day I think of Don Bowman.

I think that perhaps we owe him more than simply remembrance.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

Andrew Lewis works with at-risk youth and is writing a family memoir. He lives in Sebastopol.