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Friday, June 13, 2014

June 13, 2014: D-Day Stories: Frank Draper, Jr.

[In honor of last week’s 70 anniversary of the D-Day invasion, in this series I’ll highlight different ways we’ve told the story of that fateful day and its aftermath. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and any stories you’d highlight or share, in comments!]
On the website that represents the possibilities for a 21st century memorial.
The heroic service, tragic death, and communal symbolism of Frank Draper, Jr. were initially memorialized in a very traditional way. Draper served in Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division about which I wrote in yesterday’s post, and was killed during the heated action on the first day of the D-Day invasion, June 6th, 1944. His devastated father, Frank Draper, Sr., built a large stone monument in their hometown of Bedford, Virginia, paying tribute to his son’s service and mourning his death at the far-too-youthful age of 26. Since Draper was one of nineteen young men from Bedford who were killed during the Normandy invasion, the monument has become a symbolic tribute to this small town’s collective service and sacrifice, and indeed has served as a starting point for a more official memorial to the town’s D-Day heroes and losses.
I hope it goes without saying that I’m a big fan of memorials and all such historic sites, but they are of course linked to, and thus in some ways limited by, their physical locations—if you want to see the Draper memorial, after all, you have to travel to little Bedford, Virginia. But here in the 21st century, there’s another option when it comes to collective memory, digital spaces, and they’re offering new possibilities for how we can memorialize stories like Draper’s. This website dedicated to Draper, for example, begins with an image of and quote from the family memorial and moves through the details of both Draper’s story and his father’s response, but then shifts to a series of references and links to relevant but increasingly broad historical contexts: the D-Day memories of both Allied and Axis troops; a line from Stephen Ambrose’s history of the invasion; an audio file of Eisenhower’s radio address; and then quotes from figures as varied as John Adams, Walt Whitman, and General Patton.
The page, created by blogger and web author Rich Geib, is far less overtly connected to either Draper specifically or D-Day more broadly than the Bedford memorials, and I’m not suggesting a website can or should replace such physical historic sites. But for one thing, a website like Geib’s can connect audiences all around the world, most of whom will likely never make it to Bedford, to Draper and his story, and all the histories to which they are linked. And for another, such a site can provide those multi-layered historical and cultural contexts, allowing for deeper investigation and understanding of an individual soldier’s experiences, of the D-Day invasion and its aftermaths, of World War II, and of war and history at the broader and most human levels. As with anything online, none of those contexts can be taken for granted or assumed to be accurate or the last word—but neither could be a physical memorial, or any particular representation of a history or story for that matter. With a story like Draper’s, I would argue that the crucial first step is simply to remember at all—and this website definitely offers us new and potent ways to do so.
Special post this weekend,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other D-Day stories you’d highlight or share?

2 comments:

  1. This isn't really a story of the D Day invasion, but it sort of it. Terry Thomas, professor in the history department, always manages to relate history to her students in as anecdotal a manner as possible. She treats history as a narrative to be told and shared and one of the finest narratives she related to me (as a member of her class) was Normandy. I think everyone in the class was riveted and stuck on her as she talked passionately and intelligently about the small details and painted a big picture from it. I know this was supposed to be more about D-Day and the inspiration found from that struggle, but I can't help but remember history as a collection of oral folktales given to me by people like Terry.

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  2. Thanks, AnneMarie! I think however we learn those stories and histories is an important part of the conversation, and certainly great teachers can do that as well as anyone.

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