For vets, recalling D-Day still painful

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2The memories and medals weren’t something they were ashamed of. On the contrary, they were proud. But they didn’t want to talk about them – even to their own wives and kids. People might think they were trying to be heroes – but they knew the truth, said Berger, sitting next to Grohowski’s wheelchair and sharing old memories with a new friend. “The real heroes are the men who are buried there,” said Berger, a Reseda man who has returned to Normandy twice over the last six years for D-Day commemorations. The country should never forget this day, both men say. Sure we have Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but anyone who knows the history of World War II knows that D-Day was the turning point, the day the Allied forces finally made the enemy blink. Grohowski drove an amphibious landing craft that morning, dropping Allied troops in knee-deep water off Omaha Beach, then returning later with more troops and supplies. The two vets who met for the first time Monday in a Chatsworth elder-care facility never told their kids until just a few years ago what they were doing 62 years ago today. Hitting Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, at dawn on June 6, 1944 – D-Day. Like so many returning GIs, Ben Burger, now 86, and Mike Grohowski, 93, came home from World War II and locked away all their war memories and medals deep in closets, garages and attics. They were more interested in starting families and beginning careers than in telling and retelling war stories. For all he knows, one of those men was Ben Berger, a naval gunfire liaison officer attached to the 5th Ranger Battalion. A kid who would go on to be awarded a chestful of medals, including the coveted Silver Star for bravery, presented to him by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. For more than 50 years, the Silver Star collected dust in a foot locker in the garage of his Reseda home, along with his other medals and memories, before he finally told his daughter, Elsie, about it in 1998. They had just come home from the hospital after visiting Dolly, Ben’s wife and Elsie’s mother, who had suffered a stroke. She died a few years later. “We were looking through old photo albums when Dad said he had an old foot locker out in the garage I might want to look through,” Elsie said. She and her brother, Steve, knew their father had been in the war, but neither was ready for his memories and medals. “He never wanted anyone to know about it – and still doesn’t like talking about it,” Elsie said. “But you know what made us even more proud of him? That after all that, he came home and raised his family – that he was a kind man who always wanted to help people out. That’s our father.” Michelle Grohowski-Ray feels the same way about her dad, Michael. She still remembers the day he handed her a college scholarship application reserved for children of disabled veterans. “I had no idea he had even been there on D-Day or that he later suffered a disabling injury,” she said Monday. Service records show that Mike Grohowski lost his right eye fighting in France on Oct. 31, 1944. It was replaced with a prosthetic eye that was so realistic no one in his family knew for more than 20 years, Michelle said. “Dad always wore glasses. I was 19 before I knew he had lost his right eye and how it happened. We took a long walk one day and he told me about it. “To save the other eye, he was bandaged in complete darkness for three months before he came home. Dad really didn’t open up completely about the war until after Mom died in 2000.” He has thought about D-Day often over the years – all those young soldiers he dropped off on Omaha Beach who didn’t make it home. “You can’t erase something like that from your mind, ever,” he said. Ben and Mike spent more than an hour together Monday and set a date to meet again in a few weeks. Ben has some pictures from his D-Day commemorative visits to Normandy. He wants to show Mike how Omaha Beach looks now. And for the first time in many years, Mike wants to see. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. dennis.mccarthy@dailynews.com (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more