I watched President Trump give his speech at Normandy on June 6, 2019, and I am reminded how few soldiers are left to tell their stories.
My father and three of his brothers went to war in 1942. One of them did not return and another came home extremely troubled and was unable to talk about his experiences of that awful time in his life. He was on the USS Franklin when it was attacked by Japanese Kamikazes.
While he survived, hundreds of his fellow sailors were killed. The toll left him unable to recover and he remained haunted all the days of his life.
Many similar stories have been lost to the past, which is a shame. So many of our military came home mute and never shared the horrific stories they lived for our freedom. I believe their stories should be in our history books, our family Bibles, and available for all Americans to read.
Hollywood has given us views of what our military went through. Many families, like mine, never heard the firsthand stories of what our fathers, uncles, brothers went through. They opted to spare us the horror of their lives given to ensure or freedom.
About 20 years ago, I had a small business making and repairing golf clubs. Ralph Puhalovich, a gentleman in his 70s, was an avid golfer and was very picky about the performance of his clubs. Over a period of three years, we met to deal with “the imperfections” of those clubs. Over time we became friends and he opened up to me little by little about his military history.
One day in June of 2002, he related a story to me that I will never forget.
Ralph was a 19-year-old U.S. Army soldier who was on Utah Beach on June 6, 1945. I hope he told his family members his story, I know he told his wife because she was part of the rest of the story. It is as follows:
Ralph and a close friend went through basic training at 19 years of age. Following training they were shipped to England. Along with several hundred other soldiers they crossed the English Channel to France. When the doors opened on the landing craft, Ralph and his friend headed for the beach and fast as their legs would carry them.
What he described to me was right out of the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” He heard bullets flying by like a swarm of hornets. He saw his comrades falling. Then it happened, his buddy went down. He was still alive, so Ralph yelled for a medic. The medic told him that there was nothing he could for him on the beach, they would have to get him to the MASH unit down the beach, out of harm’s way.
Ralph convinced the medic to help him carry his friend to the hospital. Once again, Ralph described bullets flying everywhere, bodies dropping everywhere, but he and the medic kept going, luckily unharmed, until they reached the MASH unit. Unfortunately, his friend died shortly after they arrived. Ralph returned to the fighting, and obviously returned home after the war.
And the rest of the story: Ralph considered returning to Normandy for the 50 th anniversary of D-Day, but decided against it because of the painful memories he had. He did, however, watch a TV presentation leading up to the event. During the filming, the cameras scanned the cemetery where the American soldiers were buried, and as they did, (to this day it still chokes me up) the camera stopped at one of the crosses long enough to show the name. It was Ralph’s friend. Ralph packed his bag and flew to France to say his last farewell to his close side kick and fellow soldier.
I hope those of you knew Ralph and have never heard this story, pass it on to everyone you know so the stories of Ralph, who died this year, are passed on from generation to generation so we will never forget those who died for our country.
Mike Burke lives in Sonora.