Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Vivid Air Signed with Their Honor

69 years ago last night, this guy I know--one of my heroes--didn't get any sleep.  I imagine it's rather hard to sleep when yours will be among the very first Allied military boots to land on Hitler's fortress Europe.  My friend was a pathfinder with the 101st Airborne; he parachuted in very early in the a.m. on DDay to mark the drop zones for the massive drops a few hours later. 
General Eisenhower addresses a group of paratroops preparing for the DDay invasion.
He won't talk about it.  I can only imagine, but I understand, and most assuredly do NOT press him on it.

There aren't many of them left.  And we are worse off because of that.

Important note: there are still heroes walking among us doing amazing feats of arms in the face of a hostile enemy.  I salute them all; men before whom I stand silent, except to say "Thanks."

But World War II in gen'l--and the DDay invasion of Normandy in particular--seems to have produced heroes in very large volume.  Some made it home; some didn't.  In just the first four hours of daylight in June 6, 1944, there were 9,000 U.S. casualties (combo of wounded & killed.)  During the next few weeks of the campaign, there were tens of thousands more.

Some, like my friend, parachuted, jumping into what looked like a maelstrom of gunfire, often landing in flooded fields.  Some were towed across the English Channel in gliders; these crash-landed on purpose.  Some went over the sides & out the front of landing craft like the picture below.

U.S. Troops wade ashore toward Omaha Beach.
All of them displayed a level of courage I've never approached.  When I was in my late teens & early 20s, I was focused on being cool, making it to the beach, learning to scuba dive the springs of central FL, attending college football games, and getting a date.  These guys were focused on living until sunset.  And then living until the following sunrise.

Four years ago, on the 65th anniversary of DDay, a buddy & I drove down to the DDay museum in New Orleans.  The museum staff had invited every known survivor of the 1944 invasion to come.  A couple hundred showed up.

I doubt I'll ever walk among so many towering heroes again this side of Heaven.  It was awesome in the truest sense of the word.

Last year, my buddy brought me some hallowed ground.
This is a small bag of dirt from Omaha Beach & Utah Beach in Normandy.  Omaha & Utah were the two American landing zones.  I keep these where I do my morning times with the Lord & with reading books.  Looking at them just now reminds me that I need to be thankful more often.

One day, I hope to visit Normandy.  I hope to stand on the beaches.  I hope to stand atop Pointe du Hoc.  I hope to visit the U.S. cemetery just inland from the beach.  There is absolutely no chance of me remaining composed when that day comes.

One final story.  A guy recently spoke of his uncle who was tasked with cleaning up the beaches of Normandy.  He never spoke of that day to anybody for the rest of his days.

I hope we always remember, even as those who were there leave us on a daily basis.  As President Reagan said in his fantastic speech at Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1984, "Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your 'lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor.'"

War is hellacious, brutal, uncomprising, deadly,...and sometimes absolutely necessary.  As on June 6, 1944.  If you know any veterans of World War II, make a point of thanking them.

Now I need to go look at my two small bags of dirt--hallowed ground--and remember & celebrate & pray & give thanks for some heroes I never met.  (And for one that I see quite regularly.)


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