Two months ago I had the pleasure of visiting Normandy for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. It was a trip I’ve been meaning to take for a while now and frequently discussed it with Rocco. I visited France in March of 2016 but I never made it to Normandy, instead I decided to split time between Paris and Belgium so that I could visit Rocco’s friends and owners of the Remember Museum in Thimister-Clermont, a museum dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge. It was an incredible experience, and the best part of the whole trip was being able it discuss it with Rocco when I returned home. Showing him the pictures and seeing his eyes light up when sharing stories about Belgium was a moment I will always hold close to my heart.
After that, I kept assuring Rocco that Normandy would be my next destination, and I knew that whenever I made it there the stories we exchanged about Belgium would pale in comparison to whatever I experienced in Normandy. D-Day was the most special day of Rocco’s life, and he was proud of landing on Omaha Beach, his role in the allied invasion, and his service throughout WWII. If you knew him, you knew him he wore his service like a badge of honor.
Fast forward to early 2018, well before Rocco got sick. On one of my visits, I mentioned that next year was the big one: the 75th Anniversary of D-Day (2019), and if there ever was a time to go then that would be it. At that time it was just an idea, but a hopeful one. Throughout the year I would continue to mention it, but never discussed it in more detail or pulled the trigger as it was too early.
Rocco on the 74th Anniversary of D-Day: June 6, 2018. Just over 2 months before he passed.
When August rolled around, Rocco’s health took a turn for the worse. On Monday, August 20th Rocco’s heart and lungs began to fail – when my father visited Rocco he was sleeping and could not be woken up, even when his hand was gripped. Based on a firm recommendation from the VA St. Albans staff, my father had him immediately transferred to hospice care. The following day, Tuesday August 21st, we all went to visit him. Expecting the worst, we walked into the room and Rocco was alert, sitting up, and smiling – a complete 180 from the day before. During our visit Rocco was talking up a storm, laughing, and eating, and we stayed with him for many hours. It was at this time that I told him that I was definitely going to Normandy for the 75th Anniversary – and he seemed pretty glad to hear it. I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time I ever got to talk to him.
I wish I could have visited Normandy while Rocco was still with us, but I believe everything happens for a reason. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I was able to tell him when I did, and simply how happy I was that he knew. Had I gone earlier, Rocco would have around for my trip, but I never would’ve experienced the incredible happenings surrounding the 75th Anniversary. I never got the chance to talk to him about my trip, but I know in my heart Rocco was there in spirit, and watching over me and looking out for me the whole time. And that’s all that truly matters.