D-Day Plus 65 years.
posted at 9:00 pm on June 5, 2009 by coldwarrior
I wasn’t there…and thank God for that. Not sure how I would have handled that June morning, so long ago.
It was hell. Take that anyway you wish.
I’ve a friend, my landlord, actually, who is the sole remaining veteran of D-Day in our county. He’s an old man now, getting well along in age, frail, by looking at him you wouldn’t think he was once a strapping young man full of piss and vinegar and part of the largest military combat assault in our history.
At times he seems no longer connected to the world around him. Not in a bad way, but in that way that old people sometimes demonstrate…so much they’ve lived, learned, experienced, witnessed, and so little time left to express any of it, and some of it is just impossible to express.
I’ve known this gentleman for over a decade. About five years ago, after I learned this wonderful old man had been one of those who went ashore on Omaha Beach in that first wave, I stopped by his office on 6 June and mentioned that some 60 years earlier he was having a really bad day, and I wanted to thank him for being there.
He looked up from his desk and smiled. Then, to the surprise of his office staff, he began to talk, began to open up about events so far distant in his past that he was sure nobody really cared to hear any of it.
He talked. I listened. No one in the office said a word. Things just stopped as an old man began to talk about things from his younger days, days that were so far removed from our present world.
And he talked…
The Atlantic printed an article by S.L.A. Marshall about Omaha Beach many years ago. Of all the narratives I’ve read about that longest day, as Connie Ryan called it, this one is the most graphic. It wasn’t the stuff of Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper war films, this was far worse…deadly…and that personal viewpoint as written in this old Atlantic article gives real life to so many who crossed the Channel and landed on Fortress Europe on that distant June morning. It makes one stop and contemplate how easy we’ve had it, my generation, and the younger kids as well.
My friend’s narrative was the same. It wasn’t about campaigns or generals leading charges, and the rattle of sabers and ruffle of drums, it was killing, and dying, trying to save friends, save each other, save themselves…a lot of it.
My friend was part of the 29th Division, covering the west end of Omaha Beach, at Vierville-sur-Mer, the First Division had the east end. Of the two divisions which comprised the initial landing force on Omaha Beach, within moments of landing there were only about six rifle companies that could be called cohesive fighting units. For all the rest it was all about survival, for those who were not already dead.
I’ve been fortunate, being an Army brat and having spent my own time in uniform when I was younger, and I got to know a number of those who waded ashore that awful morning. But no matter how well you think you know these fine Americans, no matter how many of their stories they are willing to share, you can never ever get that necessary viewpoint, that flavor, the taste, of that awful morning…and as the years go on and more and more of these wonderful Americans pass on, things such as D-Day become less and less real and more and more the stuff of legend, if they are remembered at all.
But, what I found most heartwarming on that morning five years ago when my friend started talking was that he seemed to be talking to me, with a fervor of wanting to tell someone how it was…maybe he was just talking to himself, maybe he was talking to those who were in the landing craft with him who never made it home…but for a long time he was in his own world, and talked, and the details, he seemed to understand that he finally had an audience for his story. His son told me later that day, “Dad never talks about that.”
But talk he did…and the details…right down to the color of the sand on the beach and the temperature of the water, and the discomfort and the smells on the landing craft, and the sounds, he was willing to talk about something so incomprehensible for us, the young folks, that I was in awe of this frail old man, and honored that he would take that time, five years ago, to share the most awesome experience in his life with a young kid…me.
Tomorrow morning, I will stop by and say hello and offer once again my meager thanks to him.
And then, like many Americans, I will stop by for morning Mass and say a prayer for him, and his comrades…
…those wonderful Americans who never made it home.
To walk among heroes…God bless them and keep them, and make His face to shine upon them.