Denying the past and the future
June 8, 2003
On the coastline of New Jersey, there is a long barrier island chain with some parts submerged, creating the illusion that these are separate. These islands lie anywhere from 100 yards to 2 miles offshore, with bridges providing periodic access.
One section of these islands begins across from the town of Red Bank and runs north to a point where, looking across a shallow bay, sits New York City. It was on that particular chain that we found, on the northernmost tip, the ruins of a coastal artillery placement, one of many constructed to guard harbor access during World War Two.
It occurred to us at the time that this was sadly ironic — a piece of living, recent history, an element which should be part of our national pride, permitted to crumble and decay.
June 6 is the anniversary of one of World War II’s most decisive operations, the landing on the beach at Normandy, France, by Allied Forces. As I understand it, this was the operation which turned the tide toward Germany’s eventual downfall. It was accomplished at great sacrifice.
One of the items given to me over the years is a photocopy of the strip map used for this operation. I recieved it from a Roman Catholic deacon who was a coworker when I was stationed in New York City. The deacon had been a young lieutenant playing his part in the D-Day operation.
The crumbling coastal artillery makes me sad because it makes me wonder how long will it be before we as a nation restore some of these type places for future generations? There are still plenty of WW II veterans living who might supply their own unique perspective on such efforts.
In our efforts to focus on the future, or to be politically correct, or I am really not sure why, I wonder if we are denying our children the knowledge of their history. I was surprised and dismayed by the number of high school students, when I was subbing in a history class, who did not know what D-Day was, or what happened at Pearl Harbor, nor why Iwo Jima is important, or that there was ever a Korean War. These places and dates, as well as others, are hallowed ground and should be embedded in our nation’s awareness.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University.