Footnote 21 – Father’s Day Note
On this Father’s Day of 2013, I am thinking of course of my father, James H. Wolfgang, now nearing his 91st birthday. His only trip to Europe occurred at age 21 – via Omaha Beach. His unit, the 654th Engineering Battalion, was responsible for producing the millions of maps with which Steven Ambrose, fifteen years ago, opened his book Citizen Soldiers.
Today I began reading the most recent version of the war in the European theatre, Rick Atkinson’s third volume of his Liberation Trilogy. A testament to the engineers who translated hard-won intelligence-gathering information into usable maps and models, Atkinson’s Prologue includes an account of the mammoth plaster-cast model of the beaches of Normandy, constructed under armed guard by the 654th Engineering Battalion in a small village in the Cotswalds during the spring of 1944, and then transported to London. The massive model is featured in the orientation film at the D-Day Museum in the old Higgins Boat factory in New Orleans. Here part of Atkinson’s Prologue:
“Nowhere were the uniforms more impressive on Monday morning, May 15, than along Hammersmith Row in west London. Here the greatest Anglo-American military conclave of World War II gathered the 1,720th day of the war to rehearse the death blow intended to destroy Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Admirals, generals, field marshals, logisticians, and staff wizards by the score climbed from their limousines and marched … into the Model room … [formerly an auditorium] at St. Paul’s School … Top secret charts and maps now lined the Model Room …Behind [Eisenhower] in the cockpit of the Model Room lay an immense plaster relief map of the Normandy coast where the River Seine spilled into the Atlantic. Thirty feet wide and set on a tilted platform…[it] depicted, in bright colors and a scale six inches to the mile, the rivers, villages, beaches and uplands of what would become the world’s most famous battlefield.”
Early in his life, my father was a part of that vast enterprise by the millions of “the greatest generation” who played various roles, in ending oppressively tyrannical regimes across the globe, remaking the world (for good – or ill – in varying circumstances), and indirectly allowing the gospel to be heard in many new places around the globe. Returning home to marry his high school sweetheart, he raised his family to obey God, honor their country, and be of service to others. From his Bible class on Romans I (and others) first learned the foundational gospel truths anchored in the concept of “justification by faith,” and through him I developed my earliest love for hymns by observing him develop his abilities in leading hymns for public worship, thus enabling other Christians to worship God in song. And that is merely the beginning of the “short list” of important things he taught and modeled.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad – and thanks for all those things you did, in war and peace – and still do! I love you!
Footnote 21 – Father’s Day Note Rick Atkinson, The Guns At Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (New York Henry Holt and Company, 2013), Kindle edition, Locations 157, 172, 223.