I was standing on Hallowed Ground. Instead, I dug my left Asics clad foot into the sand. The water, a lot colder than I expected, ran through the ultra light mesh and chilled me to the bone. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d heard stories all my life about the English Channel. This was my first time to see it, and feel it, up close and personal.
I scanned the wide expanse of sand and instinctively my eyes moved to the high bluffs in the distance. It was a couple of football fields, and more, away. I hunkered down low and began to run toward those bluffs.
I wasn’t the first American to sprint across these beaches. Thirty thousand beat me to it on a damp chilly morning in June of 1944. Let me amend that. A lot of those young men never made it across that beach. They drowned in the water as they stepped off the landing craft. Or they were cut down by the horrendous fire from the German machine guns, the large 88mm anti-tank weapons or the M2 mortars raining down on them from the entrenched positions on the aforementioned bluffs.
If you think I was a bit silly or irreverent to make a run across this beach 69 years after the real deal, the tears spilling down my face would belie such a notion. I was paying tribute in the best way I could think of. As I picked up speed I kept thinking about the courage, the daring, the unimaginable spirit it took to make this trip in the face of the best Hitler could enlist to defend his “Fortress Europe”.
I didn’t have to jump any barbed wire, dodge any Polish hedgehogs or fear stepping on a land mine. I zigzagged in places just to get a feel but nothing but sunshine and fresh air bounced off my face. I also wasn’t encumbered with a Mae West vest, combat boots or an eighty pound pack strapped to my back. I wasn’t worried about sand or water jamming my M1 Garand. I wasn’t thinking about my mother, wife or girlfriend back home.
The planes sent over to “soften up the landing area” had dropped the bombs too far inland. Much of the bombardment from sea had been long. The Germans were in place and intact when the first wave of American soldiers hit this Easy Red designated portion of Omaha Beach. Not much went as planned. The rough seas had pushed most of the landing craft off course. The smoke had obscured some of the visual landmarks. Very few of the troops were unloading in the right area. Tanks sent to clear the beach sank in the cold water. Confusion was apparent in every quarter. It might have slowed but it did not deter the 1st (Big Red One) and 29th Infantry Divisions or the U. S. Rangers. They gutted it toward those bluffs in the distance……..right into the teeth of the enemy!
Let me tell you something, heroes were a dime a dozen on Omaha Beach that fateful June 6 morning!
Pinned down, they inched forward. They couldn’t go back and moving inland seemed like certain death. It was as much of a killing field as history has ever mustered up. The German fire didn’t slack for a second. And yet, somehow, someway, our guys kept moving. I think it was Brigadier General Norman Cota, one of the highest ranking officers on the beach that morning, who inspired many by imploring them to “get the heck off this beach”.
My breathing began to get heavy, and I slowed a little. It’s a long way to those bluffs! And all of it across open, exposed ground. I have the utmost admiration and respect for anyone who has ever put on the uniform. But as I actually took in what these young soldiers had done here, as I looked about, as I pondered on the breadth of it……and maybe the insanity of it, I was past being in awe. Reading about it in some book is one thing. But to spy it “with my own little eyes” is another whole ball game! What men we sent across the Channel that day!
I have never been prouder to be an American.
Or sadder. Here is some perspective for you. One out of every eighteen men who stepped off those landing crafts that bloody morning died on Omaha Beach. They gave up their future….for the future.
We can’t honor them enough. We can’t hold them in high enough esteem. We can’t remember them too much. We can’t point to them with pride too often.
They are not called the greatest generation for nothing!
I reached a small portion of an old sea wall as the beach ran into a low marsh. Probably the same sea wall so many of them hunkered behind for protection and to catch their collective breaths before scaling it and moving on up the bluff. I swung up on it and looked back toward the beach I had just traversed. It was, on this April morning in 2013, so very, very serene and peaceful. Just like my life! I had lived 66 of those 69 years since D-Day in complete tranquility and safety. Not a hiccup or even a bump in the road for me. I had lived an ideal life, in an ideal time, in an ideal place.
I hope and pray we all understand the connection.