D-Day revisited…

I stumbled on this last month

It was an article on a blog.

June 6, 2009

June 6: A walk across a beach in Normandy

normandy.jpg

Today your job is straightforward. First you must load 40 to 50 pounds on your back. Then you need to climb down a net of rope that is banging on the steel side of a ship and jump into a steel rectangle bobbing on the surface of the ocean below you. Others are already inside the steel boat shouting and urging you to hurry up.

Once in the boat you stand with dozens of others as the boat is driven towards distant beaches and cliffs through a hot hailstorm of bullets and explosions. Boats moving nearby are, from time to time, hit with a high explosive shell and disintegrate in a red rain of bullets and body parts. The smell of men fouling themselves near you as the fear bites into their necks and they hunch lower into the boat mingles with the smell of cordite and seaweed.

In front of you, over the steel helmets of other men, you can see the flat surface of the bow’s landing ramp still held in place against the sea. Soon you are in range of the machine guns that line the beach ahead. The metallic dead sound of their bullets clangs and whines off the front of the ramp. And the coxswain shouts and the bullhorn sounds and you feel the keel of the LST grind against the rocks and sand of Normandy as the large shells from the boats in the armada behind you whuffle and moan overhead and the explosions all around increase in intensity and the bullets from the guns in the cliffs ahead and above shake the boat and the men crouch lower and yet lean, together, forward as, at last, the ramp drops down and you see the beach and the men surge forward and you step with them and you are out in the chill waters of the channel wading in towards sand already doused with death, past bodies bobbing in the surf staining the waters crimson, and then you are on the beach.

It’s worse on the beach. The bullets keep probing along the sand digging holes, looking for your body, finding others that drop down like sacks of meat with their lines to heaven cut. You run forward because there’s nothing but ocean at your back and more men dying and… somehow… you reach a small sliver of shelter at the base of the cliffs. There are others there, confused and cowering and not at all ready to go back out into the storm of steel that keeps pouring down. And then someone, somewhere nearby, tells you all to press forward, to go on, to somehow get off that beach and onto the high ground behind it, and because you don’t know what else to do, you rise up and you move forward, beginning, one foot after another, to take back the continent of Europe.

If you are lucky, very lucky that day, you will walk all the way to Germany and the war will be over and you will go home to a town somewhere on the great land sea of the Midwest and you won’t talk much about this day, or any that came after it, ever. They’ll ask you, over the long decades after, “what you did in the war.” You’ll think of this day and you will never think of a good answer. That’s because you know just how lucky you were.

If you were not lucky that day you’ll lie under a white cross on a large lawn 65 long gone years later. Weak princes and fat bureaucrats will mumble platitudes and empty praises about actions they never knew and men they cannot hope to emulate. You’ll hear them, dim and far away from the caverns of your long sleep. You’ll want them to go, to leave you and the others to their deep study of eternity. Sixty-five years? Seems like a lot to the living. It’s but an inch of time. Leave us and go back to your petty lives. We march on and you, you weaklings primping and parading above us, will never know how we died or how we lived.

If we hear you at all now, your mewling only makes us ask, among ourselves, “Died for what?”

Weak princes and fat bureaucrats, be silent and be gone. We are one with the sea and the sky and the wind. We march on.

Next time, we will look at some of the comments I found on that blog.

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