June 6, 2014

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. Then there's the smell of men near you fouling themselves as the fear bites into their necks and they hunch lower into the boat. That smell 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 cliffs above the beach ahead. The metallic dead sound of their bullets clangs and whines off the front of the ramp.

Then the coxswain shouts and the klaxon sounds and then 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 then the explosions all around increase in intensity and then the bullets from the machine guns in the cliffs ahead and above rattle and hum along the steel plates of the boat and the men crouch lower and then somehow together lean forward as, at last, the ramp drops down and you see the beach and then the men surge forward and you step with them and then 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, throughout long decades after, “What did you do 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 lie under a white cross on a large lawn 70 long gone years later. Weak princes and fat bureaucrats and traitors mumble platitudes and empty praises about actions they never knew and men they cannot hope to emulate. You hear them, dim and far away outside the brass doors that seal the caverns of your long sleep. You want them to go, to leave you and the others to your brown study of eternity.

"Sixty-nine 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?'

"Princes and bureaucrats, be silent. Be gone. We are now and forever one with the sea and the sky and the wind and the steel rain. We march on."

Posted by Vanderleun at June 6, 2014 12:31 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Our fathers, our heroes....

Lest we forget.

My father was half a world away, and his day would be in September 1944, when MacArthur "I Shall Return" came ashore on Leyte.

"...that this country shall have a new birth of freedom, and that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Lest we forget, that which was purchased with the blood and lives of long dead soldiers, who gave up all their tomorrows that we might live in freedom today.

Posted by: David at June 6, 2009 9:37 AM

Beautiful. To not at least try to make oneself worthy of the sacrifice is to live as a scoundrel and thief. One can never repay the debt, but one must never stop trying.

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at June 6, 2009 10:19 AM

Our (Western Chauvinist is my sis) father was on bloody Omaha at H+12. He was the platoon leader of an anti-aircraft battery. His mother knew when he was crossing the channel. She paced the hall outside her own parent's bedrooms with tears streaming down her cheeks. She knew.

Dad told us about the bodies stacked like cord wood - the mines that kept going off as some infantry veered from the 'safe' single column paths that lead from the beach.

We owe so much.

May those who stood above that beach, today - prove themselves worthy of the honor of representing these men and the country and freedom they fought and died for.

Posted by: Cathy at June 6, 2009 12:51 PM

"...you rise up and you move forward, beginning, one foot after another, to take back the continent of Europe."

One of the most moving lines in a long time.

For Uncle Charlie. 17 years old, 5 feet 4 inches.

Posted by: Lance de Boyle at June 6, 2009 1:08 PM

My father-in-law (now deceased) piloted one of those landing ships at Omaha. He never talked about the experience, but my mother-in-law related that he filled up the landing craft with men, motored to the beach, dropped the gate -- and watched most of the men get mowed down, or drown. At times he had to pull his service revolver to force a terrified soldier to disembark. His craft was bracketed by shore artillery and missed annihilation by a few feet. Then he pulled up the gate, motored back to the troop ship, and repeated the whole process, time and time again.

My wife's mom said he was never the same after he came back from the war. Small wonder.

These were extraordinary men, to whom we owe a great debt. Their kind no longer lives, replaced by a weak, self-absorbed, arrogant generation and their like-minded offspring.

God help us.

Posted by: Dr Bob at June 6, 2009 3:32 PM

All of the comments here are so touching.
But I have to slightly disagree with Dr. Bob.

Our fighting men and women today are not weak, self-absorbed, nor arrogant. I have met them, and they are anything BUT.

It is the lazy, whining petulant generation that sit on their asses complaining about our military that are disgusting.

God bless all of those who sacrifice for our country.
They are the noblest of people.

Posted by: Tamara at June 6, 2009 3:53 PM

Dr. Bob.

Your father-in-law's plight breaks my heart.

I beat at heaven's door for answers that a man should have to experience and do what he had to do.

May he rest in peace.

Posted by: Cathy at June 6, 2009 7:23 PM

The lucky men who fought that war and lived knew the high price of freedom. They came home and settled down, determined to live the lives their lost comrades would never know, the lives made possible by the sacrifices of the unlucky. Think about the way America took off in the 50's and 60's, a complete turnaround from the decades of the Great Depression and WWII. But shielding the next generation from the want of the depression and horrors of war made the boomer generation too childlike. If the times call for adults in the future will we find enough of them?

Posted by: Boots at June 6, 2009 10:02 PM

My father was in Europe and the Pacific. My son has been to Iraq twice. The Greatest Generation and the Next Greatest Generation, with us spoiled Boomers sandwiched in. Maybe for national survival all it takes is every other generation. God knows that's still a lot of sacrifice. We should be ever-grateful, they did it/do it for all of us.

Posted by: Patty at June 7, 2009 4:26 AM

My father served as a machinist mate in the Phillipines during WWII and I am as proud of him as I can be. I also served, as a fire control tech during the Viet Nam war. I served in one of the destroyers that blew those rivers open so that John Kerry could win his three purple hearts in forty days and then betray us all upon his return to America. He and the rest of the political prostitutes of his and our day told us we couldn't be proud of our service, and God help us, we believed them for a long while. I've come to realize that my motives were the same as my Dads' and so were the motives of the vast majority of the peoople I served with. Thanks for listening. I've wanted to say that for a very long time.

Posted by: Mike Melde at June 7, 2009 5:08 AM

They surely didn't die so that fat socialists could sell their country down the river...did they?

Posted by: thud at June 7, 2009 5:15 AM

My nephew from Arizona recently emailed me about his concern for the state of our union. I replied, "Our fathers gave us America, we gave it away."
I realized early on, that every step I took as a free man was on the bones of those who gave so much. Thank you, all of you, living and dead, then and now. God bless you all.

Posted by: Dennis at June 7, 2009 7:34 AM

Gerard - Thanks for this - a few years back a roommate took up work as a traveling insurance salesman. Up in the Mt Vernon (WA) area he met an old guy who drove one of those amphibious tanks on Omaha beach that morning. The old guy told my buddy the following and my buddy passed it on to me when he got back to our house that evening.

The old guy told about hitting the beach that morning with him and his tank and crew getting stuck in the shallows; they couldn't figure out why they weren't getting blown up since everying around them seemed to be exploding. So they drew straws and the old guy (as a young soldier, of course) drew the short one. He undid the tank hatch and peeked out to see what was going on. Turns out their tank had stalled just beyond angle reach of the German guns (not sure which weapon - could have been the 80mm tank or the multiple barrel mortar). He said he could see from the flashes up on the bluff where the Germans were trying to get them but they couldn't. Meantime he said he saw the body body parts of American soldiers flying. Then the old guy started crying.

How do you begin to pay homage to such men?

Posted by: Doug at June 7, 2009 10:06 AM

My dad was one of the paratroopers (82nd Airborne) who went in behind the beaches before the D-Day armada arrived. I cannot imagine the raw terror of finding yourself in the dark in enemy territory over a mile from the place you should have been dropped, trying to locate your buddies, and avoiding drowning in flooded marshes with a fifty-pound load on your back. And being no adrenalin-fueled adolescent but a man in your early thirties with a wife at home waiting for you.

He took me to see The Longest Day the year before he died-- of a premature heart attack brought on by memories of the war, so the coroner said. I remember asking him after the movie whether he was afraid when he jumped out of the glider in the early hours of the invasion. He said, "Courage isn't not being afraid-- it's doing what you have to do anyway." I have never forgotten those words, and I have tried to live up to his gift. He gave me more than just my biological existence-- he helped to shape my soul and spirit.

Gerard, thank you for another splendid post.

Posted by: Connecticut Yankee at June 7, 2009 4:10 PM

Dr. Bob, Mike, everyone -

The tears spring to my eyes reading these accounts. I know I don't have a shadow of the courage these men had.

I wish I could tell them that they shouldn't be embarrassed that they were scared, soiled themselves, for had to be forced to do what they did. I'm just so grateful they were there.

So thankful.

Posted by: Deana at June 7, 2009 9:13 PM

Thank you, Mike Melde. God bless you. Surely your reward will be great in Heaven. lois

Posted by: lois in Indy at June 8, 2009 8:44 AM

Over at The Belmont Club is this wonderful story of what two women burrowed in the French Underground were doing in preparation for D-Day:

http://pajamasmedia.com/richardfernandez/2009/06/06/waiting-for-d-day/#more-4335

Look at their pictures, and be struck by their stunning beauty. Look in particular at Violette Szabo because of whom she bears a striking resemblance to.

Posted by: Roderick Reilly at June 8, 2009 12:59 PM

I have to concur with Tamara, Dr. Bob. There are many of the same caliber. They are out there right now as each reader reads this. In Germany, Italy, S. Korea, Okinawa, and a bunch of other places. Those countries know what would happen to this world without the US military keeping an eye on things. Like sheepdogs guarding the flock from wolves. As the saying goes: Freedom isn't free.

Or we can just let China run things more efficiently and cheaper..

Posted by: JD at June 11, 2009 4:46 PM

On another note...


I was stationed in Germany for three years and my biggest regret I have is not visiting the cemeteries at Normandy.

Posted by: JD at June 11, 2009 4:49 PM

This one's for my Uncle Buck, who was the waist gunner in a B-25 in the South Pacific.

The plane broke in two at about his station when it got shot down. The front part, with a full bomb load, went down like a stone.

He and the tail gunner floated around in rafts for about a week until they were rescued.

Posted by: WWWebb at June 12, 2009 8:04 PM

This was indeed The Greatest Generation.

Posted by: cilla mitchell at July 2, 2009 3:13 PM

Bravo.

Posted by: cond0011 at June 6, 2013 11:22 AM

To save your world you asked this man to die:
Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?
- Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier, by W. H. Auden-

Posted by: Derek Alexander at June 6, 2013 11:27 AM

Yes "what for". I believe we are right now witnessing the greatest betrayal the world has ever seen to those men that fought and died for liberty.

Posted by: Denny at June 6, 2013 2:04 PM

I wish I had said the 2nd greatest betrayal, The first was by Judas Iscariot.

Posted by: Denny at June 6, 2013 2:23 PM

My second father was D-Day+3 on Omaha. They couldn't offload their trucks until the beaches had been cleared of bodies, because the men would not drive their equipment over the dead. So dozers were used to scoop/clear pathways so the equipment and motor vehicles could be taken across the beaches. My second father was in charge of a 1 1/2 ton radio repair bus.

The bodies were sorted out later, but it was a complication that the high command had not considered ahead of time. Needless to say, this was NOT shown on the newsreels.

Most libraries have the official accounts of the D-Day invasion. It is painfully dry and sobering reading, but highly recommended. Also Eisenhower and Churchill's official accounts.

Posted by: DHH at June 6, 2013 7:33 PM

@bill jones;

What an incredibly shriveled little soul you have. To paraphrase Dorothy L. Sayers, "It's a wonder your own spit don't poison ya."

Dave

Posted by: Dave at June 7, 2013 3:51 AM

Words fail. thanks g.

Posted by: rlc at June 7, 2013 7:53 AM

God Bless America

Thanks to all Vets

Posted by: Rex Bartholomew at June 7, 2013 9:49 AM

God Bless America

Thanks to all Vets

Posted by: Rex Bartholomew at June 7, 2013 9:49 AM

How about Guadalcanal, 1942, over 7,000 marines dead. Anybody weeping over them? Also what about "Baby Boomers" ruining the country? Was LBJ, Nixon and the rest boomers? D Day allies outnumbered the Germans in ships, manpower, air support. How many know Russia lost 20 million? Very few. Only difficult beach was Omaha, rest got off easy. Remember Tarawa? Nope? I'm a ex-marine, viet nam 68-69, so get real.

Posted by: Alex at June 7, 2013 1:40 PM

At this time the D-day events are rapidly losing any remaining actors. Soon the stories will become more myths than personal family events, adventures, and tragic losses. This past year I discovered a book that upended my understanding of D-day. The book told the story of a German soldier who over the course of nine hours on that horrible day made Audie Murphy's exploits look like those of a Boy Scout. The soldier was Heinrich Severloh who is believed to have killed probably 3,000 or more American troops with a MG42 and many with a Mauser rifle, all from an open pit looking down on Omah Beach. The book is available from Amazon in England and Aberdeen Books in the USA: WN 62 is the title. It is the English translation of the fourth German edition. Hein is dead now but he was considered a hero by the French and English as he got older as the book shows.

Dan Kurt

Posted by: Dan Kurt at June 9, 2013 8:25 AM

We can thank the WWII warrior generation. We can thank them and the government that decided that they needed to be rewarded for their determination and good luck.

Only part of what that generation did was on the battle field. Many things were accomplished on college campuses and main street. They pulled themselves together and made the USA what it was 30 years ago.

They help rebuild Japan and then laughed at Japan thinking that they could sell little cars that a man could nearly lift completely off the ground.

They were wrong to laugh their children and grandchildren are now working to stock America's Wal-Mart’s with the Chinese crap that the Japanese have contracted the Chinese to build.

The next generation by the way helped a truly devastated South Korea rebuild and also contract the Chinese for the American Market.

But, the strangest of all is the Ikea story. The USA didn't help the rebuild their country or laugh at their Volvos well we did kind of comment on the Saab story. But these guys built stores in the USA filled them completely with Chinese crap and then sell it to Americans that think it is like Scandinavian merchandise.

Thank God for Barak he proved that the American dream is so strong around the world that we can print useless money (it is worse than the counterfeit North Korean $100 bills made from $5 bills). The North Koreans started with pre-Chinese $5 bill. I say pre-Chinese because now we have the Chinese Purple to keep North Korea from bleaching them to make $100 bills. Oh don’t start that stuff about North Korea having only China as an Ally.

What I don't understand is why the Chinese are still sending hundreds of thousands of illegals to the USA when they know the dream is just that a dream. There is no substance to any belief that the USA will be able to pay off its debts. There is no way manufacturing will begin again now that we know about Cancer and all the manufacturing disease. There is no way we will be able to sustain the level of government, retirement and union benefits that we are paying out today.

Maybe they were the greatest generation because they didn't protest the WW II. Maybe they were the greatest because they bought the things that there brothers in manufacturing built. Maybe they were the greatest because they didn't sell the country to Foreign interest. Maybe they were the greatest because they were natural born. Today 30% of this countries people were not born here.

Maybe they were the greatest because they really didn't think that someone who broke in to this land is entitled to the same system of benefits that their fellow combatants were entitled to.

Today our government gives a retired military ID card that expires the day before the veteran turns 65. When the greatest generation retired their ID card last until they died. Their Benefits were based on their battles for this country. They were based on them supporting the constitution against foreign enemies. Yes, they were in foreign lands. We didn't have people in their generation that planned to end this great nation they wanted to make it better even if they had to join the PTA.

Posted by: Sam at June 26, 2013 2:20 PM

While Obama praises those vets at Normandy, his Administration abases Bergdahl's platoon mates.

Story here at http://americanmoxie.us/2014/06/06/middle-finger-6/

Nothing is beneath this Administration.

Posted by: Vermont Woodchuck at June 6, 2014 7:35 AM

" You hear them, dim and far away outside the brass doors that seal the caverns of your long sleep. You want them to go, to leave you and the others to your brown study of eternity."

And here is an example of Gerard's power with words. Amazing!

Posted by: Captain Dave at June 6, 2014 1:52 PM