D-Day veteran from Carol Stream honored in Washington, D.C.
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Dick Rung doesn't want to be famous, and he'd rather not have bothered with the recognition he received Sunday.
But there's a certain way he wants his grandchildren to see him: as a part of history.
Rung, 94, of Carol Stream, was honored during the 30th annual National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C., for his service in the Navy during World War II, including the June 6, 1944, landing at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
Rung became a professor of history and political science at Wheaton College after his time in the Navy, so he's always been respectful of the lessons of the past.
He wants his grandchildren to take on that same mindset. So he's making sure they know about his participation in D-Day 75 years ago, the battle that helped turn the tide in favor of the Allies against Nazi Germany.
Accepting honor and applause onstage during the nationally televised concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol is one way Rung is instilling in his descendants an understanding of how their "Opa" played a role in the war that shaped the world order.
Five of his grandchildren and three of his great-grandchildren were among a family group of a dozen people who traveled to take in the concert filled with musical selections and personal stories about the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and Gold Star families.
"All of my family is going to experience this," Rung said. "They're going to experience, 'This is Opa.'"
Rung and several other D-Day veterans joined the lineup of a concert hosted by Joe Mantegna and Mary McCormack that included performers Patti LaBelle, Alison Krauss and Gavin DeGraw, as well as several military bands.
For Rung, the concert was a teachable moment about his D-Day memories -- recollections that still feel like yesterday, remembrances he routinely shares in lectures he gives to high school students in Wheaton and Chicago.
"If you forget the past, you're destined to repeat it," he said.
Rung hasn't forgotten.
Drafted into the Navy as a 19-year-old auto mechanic, the upstate New York native became a motor machinist second class and learned to operate diesel engines. About a year into his service, Rung said, he joined a convoy of 125 ships that took part in the larger invasion of Normandy, which began the liberation of France.
He remembers the treacherous weather and tall waves that swept the English Channel.
"That surf was really high," Rung said.
Fighting the waves, Rung worked an engine at the rear of the landing craft tank he staffed with 13 other sailors as they struggled to bring fighters and equipment to the beach. Even though he wasn't closest to the shoreline, Rung said, he couldn't avoid seeing the bodies of some of the 10,000 Allied troops who were killed or injured. "The firing was awful," he said. "Awful."
Rung's wife of 70 years knows his war stories, but admits she can't fully conjure up the images she knows still haunt him.
"I can't picture what he saw on D-Day," Dot Rung said. "I know he sees that, but I can't picture it."
What the Rung family did get to picture Sunday was their patriarch receiving recognition for his status as a veteran and his survival of a violent, yet successful, military action. Rung also hoped participating in the National Memorial Day Concert would allow him to reconnect with his crewmate Harry Keller, whom he hadn't seen since the aftermath of the D-Day invasion.
Rung's daughter, Judy Pickard, said the family planned to enjoy the occasion by seeing the sights in D.C., stopping by the National World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian Institution. These experiences all will add to the perspective Rung's younger generations can gain on the battle that shaped his view of the world.
"I am what I know, and you are what you know," Rung said. "I'm not only in history, but history is in me."