I wrote this a year ago today. I wish I could take my father-in-law, Garland Crook, fishing today. Unfortunately, his age caught up with him in the past year, and he’s now a resident of Miller Pointe Nursing home in Mandan, N.D., where at 6:30 tonight we’ll have a special program, with music and speeches and remembrances, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the day that young 19-year-old soldier and his comrades stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The public is invited to celebrate with us.
D-Day. June 6, 1944.
Seventy-four years ago today, my father-in-law, Garland Crook, got his feet wet — literally and figuratively — entering combat in World War II by going ashore on Normandy Beach.
Today, Jeff and I are going to try to keep him from getting his feet wet as we help him into the boat on the Missouri River. We’re going fishing.
Garland’s an American hero, and there aren’t many left who participated in that fateful day. I’ve asked him about it, and he’s talked about it from time to time, but he’s not eager to bring it up. Today, though, in a boat, like he was June 6, 1944, maybe he’ll feel like talking. Last time I asked him, he just said “Jim, we were a bunch of scared kids.”
Garland was 19 years old that day. He survived Normandy Beach and became a career soldier. He spent his working life in the U.S. Army, serving during three wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He retired to a farm in North Dakota, then retired from farming and now lives not far from his daughter, Lillian, and me in Bismarck.
Garland loves to fish. Every summer for the past four or five years since he moved to Bismarck, we’ve gotten him in the boat. It’s not easy, for us or for him. Every winter, over supper, I tell him we can’t wait to get him out in the boat again next summer. Every winter he says, “Jim, I’m afraid my fishing days are over.”
Then summer comes, and I call him and say, “Garland, are you interested in fishing tomorrow?”
“Yeah, I’m interested,” he’ll respond, “but I’m not sure I can do it. Let me get back to you.”
The “get back to you” part takes about 15 minutes — a little longer this year because it took him longer to get out to the garage, either in his wheelchair or using his walker, to check to make sure his rods and reels and tackle box made it through another winter.
Then my phone rings and he says, “What time?”
10 a.m. today. I’ll report in.