At sea on the Royal Viking Sun, May 24-June 4, 1994 – The majority of passengers on the Royal Viking Line’s Sun were World War II veterans and their spouses. The veterans were mostly Army, who had served in the European theater and participated in the Normandy invasion, which commenced on June 6, 1944. During the fourteen days at sea, passengers got to know one another and memories were shared – sometimes.
One evening, a tablemate took out an old, wrinkled photograph from his wallet and showed it to me. He was pointing his rifle at a half-dozen German prisoners who had their hands raised. “Do you remember what you were thinking?” I said. (I hated when the media asked those kinds of questions, but I didn’t know how else to phrase it.)
“I don’t look it,” he said, “but I was scared to death.”
Another tablemate was with the heroic 2nd Ranger Battalion when they scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1944. He did not want to talk about that day – understandable, I think.
On board were Maxene Andrews of the Andrews Sisters, and June Allyson. Ms. Andrews entertained and signed copies of her book, Over Here, Over There. The ship’s orchestra played Big Band dance tunes from the Forties. Thanks to five lessons at Arthur Murray’s in Santa Barbara, Bill and I danced every night. Bill had mastered a very nice Rhumba that allowed me to show off my turns.
One afternoon in the laundry room, I noticed an elegant-looking man wearing a green t-shirt with “Val Verde” printed on it. “I live in Montecito,” I said, “and there’s a beautiful estate there named Val Verde.”
“Yes, I know. I own it,” said Dr. Warren Austin with a charming smile. He had served as a young Army doctor in the European theater and brought his 50-year old uniform with him to wear at the D-Day events. (See the upcoming June 5 post for a photo of Dr. Austin in his uniform.) Dr. Austin and I stayed in touch after the cruise. He has since passed away, but to this day, I credit this gentleman from the old school with the best advice on how I, then a publicist for the performing arts, could deal graciously with the media:
“Always open the conversation with a compliment before you tell them what they got wrong,” he said.
Excerpted from the upcoming memoir Author, Publisher, Marketing Man, 1990-2015, by William and Sandra McGee. Next post May 25. All D-Day Posts