D-Day at 70: What will never be again should never be forgotten

June 6, 2014
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Sadly, for most Americans today, it was a time long ago in a place far, far away; just another date on the calendar.

But to the few survivors who are still with us, “it” is as if it were yesterday.

And it is a yesterday that no matter how long the years, no matter how hard they try, will never fade away.

How could it?

In the earliest hours you’re crammed into a floating sardine can that within minutes is filled with the stench of vomit as the unforgiving English Channel forces up one set of GI rations after another.

As dawn nears you see a flash from the silhouette of steel amassed behind you, then another, and another as the horizon explodes with a fury never before unleashed. Seconds later the roar reaches your ears as the shells rain down in front.

You say a prayer that they’ve hit their mark, that the bunkers were being demolished.

And then…..

The ramp drops and in an instant so too the dozen men in front of you; Ripped from life by the pull of a trigger 300 yards away firing at the rate of 1500 rounds per minute.  Instinct shoves you into the water, your 80 extra pounds of invasion gear sends you to straight to the bottom. 

You shed the gear and drag yourself onto the beach.  You find yourself surrounded by uniforms that just minutes ago were buddies from basic training, now but bodies turning sand and water to a hellish, brownish red.  You know you have but two choices:  stay and die now or move and most likely die later.

And so you move……..

By a grace of God you still do not understand to this day you survived what so many others did not.  And yet while you were spared their fate, you have never been separated from the horror.

“IT” is D-Day, June 6th 1944, the day that American, British and Canadian forces launched the largest amphibious assault in history on the beaches of Normandy, France and brought about the beginning of the end to the evil that was Adolf Hitler.

Author Cornelius Ryan dubbed it “The Longest Day”.  Director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks did all they could to instill the realism of the day in “Saving Private Ryan”.  HBO did a remarkable job with Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” portraying the day through the paratroopers’ eyes.

But in the end, they are all just that:  portrayals.  As much as we may try, there will never be the technology; never be a technique that will allow anyone not there to ever experience the absolute hell and horrors of that “Day of Days”.

None of us will ever truly know the enormity of that day and the tsunami of emotions that smashed into each and every one those who were there.

The technologically cocooned lives we live today were not even in the wildest of imaginations of the men who stormed the beaches those 70 years ago, yet how many today will give even a second’s thought to the fact that without the Bedford Boys, without the Boys of Pointe du Hoc, without Easy Company, there would be no today.

So as you go about your ways today, take a moment, take pause, and reflect on the way it was those 70 years ago when the fate of the free world literally depended upon the success or failure of that one day.

And then be ever so thankful that your first view of today was not a 5 mile stretch of beach exploding in front of you.

PUBLISHER’s NOTE:  A version of this column first appeared in the June 6th, 2014 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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