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Reflections on D-Day: A Journey to Arlington with Aunt Mary Ellen

By Dave Gormley
Memorial DayOn this Anniversary of D-Day I found myself thinking about the day I gave my Aunt Mary Ellen a ride to Arlington for my Uncle Johnny’s Funeral.

Growing up I knew my Uncle Johnny took part in the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach as an landing craft pilot.  But that was about all I knew about his service in WWII until he died in 2004.  Despite being an Irish American with the gift of the Blarney, if he ever said anything about D-Day it usually was a joke about how he was lucky because he landed on the quiet part of Omaha Beach.

On the day of his internment I drove to pick up my Aunt and take her to Arlington National Cemetery. Since he had been cremated she had my Uncle’s remains with her as well.  Since she was living in Leisure World in Silver Spring this meant a trip around the DC Beltway.  That was of course the morning that a dump truck hit a power line at the intersection of Connecticut and Georgia Avenue and both roads were closed.

Despite having planned for traffic, I knew I was going to be late.  Really late.  At the point that I thought I was just not going to get there I was approaching a group of police cars.  I was about to pull over explain my situation and ask for help when I realized I had finally made it north of the accident. To my amazement my Aunt Mary Ellen took this all in stride, and when I called those who made it to Arlington they told me that the ceremony would be held when we got there.

Since we still had a bit of a ride and some traffic to deal with I asked my Aunt about Uncle Johnny’s service in World War II.  I wish the ride had been longer.  But as best as I remember here is what she said:

She had grown up in Georgetown and had been best friends with my Aunt Helen.  As she got older she began to date my uncle.  After the start of WWII my Uncle had joined the Navy and was training in New York when they got married.  This apparently caused some family tensions as my Aunt Helen may have felt funny about her best friend marrying her brother, and since my Grandfather had just died my Grandmother may have been hoping her son would be able to help support the younger children.  Shortly after they got married my Uncle was stationed in Southern Maryland. Being close to Washington DC they could visit on weekends.  Much of his training involved landings on the beaches of the Chesapeake Bay near Calvert Cliffs.

Eventually my Uncle left for England.  Along with the landings on D-Day he also took part in the landings in Italy and southern France.  During the war my Aunt Helen had been engaged, but her fiancee was killed while serving in the Army in Italy.  Towards the end of the war Uncle Johnny helped transport landing craft to Alaska so they could be turned over to the Russians for the invasion of Japan.  He then was stationed in Seattle where he waited for landing craft to be built to be used in the invasion of Japan.  Aunt Helen and Aunt Mary Ellen made the trip by train across the country to Seattle.  My Aunt Mary Ellen stayed in Seattle with Uncle Johnny and they were together when VJ Day was announced.  Hearing her tell the story I  could only imagine the relief and joy they must have felt that he was not going into battle again.

When we finally arrived at Arlington my sisters and cousins made sure to give me a hard time about being late making some Irish funeral humor jokes out of ear shot of my Aunt. Apparently if you are going to be late to a funeral it is a good thing to have the widow and the remains with you.