Thursday, June 6, 2019

Day of days

Please pay attention to the footage above. It's an iconic, heroic and stirring piece of photo journalism, because it occurred on June 6, 1944, at Omaha Beach.

Seventy-five years ago. Today.

It's the first wave of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, at the height of World War II.

Somewhere around the 14-20 second mark of this brief clip, a soldier, seen on the left side of the grainy clip, tries to make his way forward. Then he falls heavily on the beach, presumably hit by fire from Germans in the bunkers behind the seawall.

I don't know if the soldier was wounded, or killed. He doesn't move after he falls to the sand, so I can only assume the worst. If what I think happened, we see the very moment his life expired. It's chilling.

As a history buff, I've seen this clip hundreds of times, if not thousands. It never occurred to me until recent years that the soldier falling to the ground was probably killed. We don't often see the moment of death on film. Omaha Beach was particularly deadly for the American V Corps landing there that day, incurring somewhere between 2,000 to 5,000 in killed, missing and wounded.

And now, when I see the clip, I make a silent plea that that soldier somehow hears me, and dodges to his left or right at just the precise moment. I shout to him in my mind to hit the dirt, to save himself, but he never hears me.

I try to absorb what that means. He was probably in his 20s, if not in his teens, with his whole life ahead of him until he was cut down by hot German metal. His death not only brought grief to his family and friends, but instantly ended his gene pool. Think about that for a moment. Could he have fathered an artist to give us insight? A musician to give us joy? A scientist or a doctor who could cure disease? A politician who could bring us world peace? A lineage of even more potential?

Then think about all the deaths that war brings. What do we lose? What do we gain?

There's a sense that D-Day opened the door for the United States to win World War II, but it's a little more complicated than that. The Russian juggernaut on the Eastern front was relentlessly pressing its way toward Berlin. Even without the Allied landings in Normandy, the Russians probably would have rolled into Berlin by late 1945, if not sooner.

Think about what that would have meant to world order. A communist Europe? Perhaps. D-Day, however, brought the western Allies to the heart of the European continent and culture. It not only helped to defeat Nazi Germany, it brought the Marshall Plan. It brought the United Nations. It brought NATO. It brought 75 years of peace to a geo-political landscape that saw war nearly every other generation for centuries.

And so that soldier falls on the beach, his lonely, solitary death on Bloody Omaha still momentous to us all, on this day of days.

1 comment:

  1. I am afraid today’s students already have little, if any, appreciation for the sacrifices of that soldier and the sailors, airmen and other soldiers whose lives were given in defense of freedom. American schools don’t emphasize history anymore, and that does not bode well for our nation.