There was so much that I wanted to tell him: How steep the cliffs were, how far the cemetery stretched, how the chill of the bunkers offered relief on a warm September afternoon along the coast of France.
My friend Jimmy Poston died before I ever got the chance to share any of this with him.
My visit to Normandy last fall is as much about him as it is about the rite of passage for so many who have figured out how to travel from the Bayuex train station to Colleville-sur-Mer and, finally, those hallowed sands of Omaha Beach.
The bond between Jimmy and I was military history, and because he and my father were longtime friends, that bond spanned decades; that he was 32 years older than I didn’t matter. When I was just an elementary school student, he’d let me comb over his collection of model airplane kits for one to take home and take a stab at. Years later, the three of us would get together to see the latest World War II Hollywood blockbuster. As we sat around eating lunch and trying to make sense of the shattered timeline of Dunkirk, I got to talking about my upcoming trip to Europe.
The planned itinerary was this: a glimpse of London, overnight ferry across the English Channel from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, take a train, rent a car, find the beach, drive to Paris, continue on to points in northern Europe, then travel back down to Belgium and finally home to South Philadelphia.
At the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, when a bugler offered a rendition of “Taps,” there wasn’t a dry eye. On this beach, while sunbathers relaxed where 2,500 Americans met their deaths on D-Day seven decades before, I stood on a stone and let the high tide roll past, generating awe that will stay with me forever.
I emailed a few pictures home, including one of my girlfriend and me in front of the Eiffel Tower and one of me at Longues-sur-Mer standing in front of a German gun battery, the smeared fingerprints of generations running all over the stamping on the breech of the cannon. I thought of Jimmy at that moment, thought about how he’d probably have something witty to say. My mom said she showed these photos to Jimmy on what turned out to be the last time they all saw each other.
Jimmy died on Nov. 18, 2017, at 62. “Gone too soon,” part of his prayer card reads. Gone before I could tell him about any of this – the things we could only armchair general during drives to World War II Weekend in Reading. When his widow offered me a choice from his superbly-built model airplanes to keep, I picked a P-51 Mustang.
Sleek and synonymous with victory in Europe. And now propping up his prayer card.
Greg Adomaitis lives in South Philadelphia. His friend Jimmy Poston lived in Somerdale, Camden County.
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