Sunday, June 5, 2016

I Became a Visitor to Hell

"As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell. I shut everything out and concentrated on following the men in front of me down the ramp and into the water." --Pfc. Harry Parley, 116th Infantry Regiment, US 29th Division
This week marks the 73rd anniversary of Operation Overlord, the Allied Invasion of Normandy. D-Day, June 6, 1944, saw the beginning also of Operation Neptune, or the Allied Assault against German Forces. Thousands finally made their way towards France. The first assault began from the sky:  
I looked at my watch and it was 12:30. When I got into the doorway, I looked out into what looked like a solid wall of tracer bullets. I said to myself, 'Len, you're in as much trouble now as you're ever going to be in. If you get out of this, nobody can ever do anything to you that you ever have to worry about!
  --Pvt. Leonard Griffing, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, US 101st Airborne Division
It was a weird feeling, to hear those heavy shells go overhead. Some of the guys were seasick. Others, like myself, just stood there, thinking and shivering. There was a fine rain and a spray, and the boat was beginning to ship water. Still, there was no return fire from the beach, which gave us hope that the navy and the air force had done a good job. This hope died 400 yards from shore. The Germans began firing mortars and artillery. --Sgt. Harry Bare, 116th Infantry Regiment, US 29th Division
 The invasion was postponed due to bad weather the day before. Mere boys were going into the unknown. Their lives would forever be changed once they found ground and began to fight.

There was this barbed wire area and a wounded officer who had stepped on an antipersonnel mine calling for help. I decided that I should go. I walked in toward him, putting each foot down carefully and picked him up and carried him back. That was my baptism. It was the sort of behavior I expected of myself.
--Lt. Elliot Richardson, medical detachment

... the craft gave a sudden lurch as it hit an obstacle and in an instant an explosion erupted.... Before I knew it I was in the water.... Only six out of 30 in my craft escaped unharmed. Looking around, all I could see was a scene of havoc and destruction. Abandoned vehicles and tanks, equipment strung all over the beach, medics attending the wounded, chaplains seeking the dead. --Pvt. Albert Mominee, 16th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Division

Face downward, as far as eyes could see in either direction, were the huddled bodies of men living, wounded, and dead, as tightly packed together as a layer of cigars in a box.... Everywhere, the frantic cry, 'Medics, hey, Medics' could be heard above the horrible din. --Maj. Charles Tegtmeyer, Surgeon, 16th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Div
These men were faced with something training could never teach them. The sheer destruction, bodies being blown apart, men crying for their mother's - you cannot teach that, nor can you get over that horrid memory. But they moved on and conquered that beach. Once the beach was taken, the invasion moved inward to Western Normandy and cities like Caen.
News of the invasion was announced to the millions whose lives hung in the balance. The allies were coming to help. 

This is D-Day,' the BBC announced at 12 o'clock. 'This is the day.' The invasion has begun!... Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation? The liberation we've all talked so much about, which still seems too good, too much of a fairy tale ever to come true?... the best part of the invasion is that I have the feeling that friends are on the way. Those terrible Germans have oppressed and threatened us for so long that the thought of friends and salvation means everything to us! -- Anne Frank, diary entry, June 6, 1944

It is reported that       2, 499 Americans and 1,914 allied forces died that day alone. By the end of the Operation itself,      the         United
States lost 29,000 soldiers, with another 106,000 wounded and missing; the United Kingdom lost 11,000 dead and  54,000 wounded and missing; Canada: 5,000 dead; 13,000 wounded and missing.
Tom Hanks famous line from Saving Private Ryan, "I'll See You on the Beach", begins what for many, was the most factual and true movie vision of war that anyone had ever seen. War is hell.

I remember going to see Saving Private Ryan at the Richland Mall in Johnstown. The theatre was filled with veterans - and I couldn't have been more proud of my father. It took me into a world I could only see in his eyes. While he didn't leave for England on August 11th of 1944, he would land on Utah beach by August 24th, the sand clean of the remnants of D Day. 

Friends,  show your kids Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, Flags of Our Fathers, or  Memphis Belle, when they are old enough. Take them to the World War II Memorial, cemeteries, even a Veterans Day parade. Show them pictures. Please, I beg you, don't let the importance of these days, June 6th, December 7th, or December 16th become forgotten dates. It is my legacy, I know, easy for me to be so easily swept up in the importance because I have such a close relation to it. But it is our history-something we should be so very proud of. Our fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and even our grandmothers had an important part of the history of not only our country but of the world we live in.
My Uncle and Father  - France, 1944

Some music that I listened to while writing this: Glenn Miller and Edith Piaf.

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