Normandy

By , Portola Valley, CA
Every person has a bad day during which they wish time would stop and prevent them from having to deal with whatever trouble may be ahead. Well, take that feeling and multiply it by 10 to the 36th power … that is how bad I want time to come to a screeching halt.
…….

I’ve just woken up to a blaring horn. I, along with all of the other soldiers, were startled from our sleep. It’s June 6th, 1944, the day my battalion is assigned to hit the beaches. That may sound like a vacation, but it’s quite the opposite. We are heading toward the beaches of Normandy, France. For the past two days we have heard rumors and fragmented stories about the beaches, sounds like hell.

We march like programmed machines through the cold, dim bowels of the base towards the cafeteria. We arrive to a much heartier breakfast than usual. There is an eerie feeling in the atmosphere, and not as much conversation as there usually is. Just by looking around at the others, I can tell everybody is nervous, anxious, worried, and whatever else.

Breakfast ends. Every man in the cafeteria simultaneously stands up, puts their trays by the trashcans, and exits the cafeteria. Now in the locker room we open our respective lockers, strip down, and suit up in our military fatigues.

First, I put on my fatigues, button my shirt, tuck it in to my pants, and fasten them. Next, I put on my paratrooper boots (as a ranger they were standard issue). Then, I looped my belt through my pant loops, and before the last loop I fished it through the slit on my combat knife sheath. I did this as insurance, if for any reason I had to get rid of my ammo belt; I’d still have a half assed back up plan. Being the section sergeant I used an M-1 Rifle, so logically, I strap on my M-1 Rifle ammo belt. I loved having this belt because the ammo pouches were spaced apart just enough to be able to attach my binoculars in between. This way I didn’t have to carry them on my shoulders. Also fastened to my ammo belt was my compass, canteen, first aid kit, a pair of wire cutters (to get through that damn barb wire), and my baby. I called her Betsy… she was my grenade launcher. On top of that we carried light packs. In those, we had some field dressings, more ammo, a shovel, a raincoat, mess gear, and a bayonet. Oh and I almost forgot … sitting up there on the top shelf of my locker … paratrooper style switchblade. Honestly, the switchblade was more of a memento than anything.

The general came in to the locker room; everyone turned, faced, and held salute. “At ease, gentlemen” commanded the general. I tuned out for this part thinking back on the life I had left behind, but from what I gathered, it was one hell of a pep-talk, he got the morale from an all-time low to a morale of the up most proportions. Unfortunately, this morale was short lived … the moment we walked out on to that deck, everyone went from high morale, back to having that eerie look of uncertainty and fear over them.

The battalion marched on to a British Navy ship. This ship would take us across the channel to drop us about half of a mile off shore from our designated beach code named, “Omaha.” While still in transit, one by one we climb over the side of the ship and get in to the LCAs (Landing Craft Assault), which were suspended over the side of the ship. One by one we squished in to the LCAs … essentially a human form of a sardine can. Once we got in, we passed around barf bags, two per man. Thank god for those. We were packed so close together that without those barf bags we would all have each other’s vomit crawling down our backs.

A bell rang and sailors at the pulleys undid the ropes lowering us into the rough seas. The seas are rocking the boats so much it is as if we are on a one of those carnival rides that goes up and down, over and over again (that is where the barf bags came in…).

The beaches are in sight. It’s hard to make out what is happening, due to the smoky haze of all the gunfire and explosions, but we can hear machine gun rounds, mortars hitting the ground, and a grenade or two every so often. The closer we get the more we can see, and now the bright orange trails of tracer rounds scatter down towards the beaches … “Here we go” …

The LCAs bring us as close to shore as they can. There are scattered messes of steel decorated with mines keeping the LCAs a ways off shore. The latch on the front of the boat is released, and now a ramp that all thirty of us rush down into the water towards a bank of rocks to wait for further orders. My battalion splits up into its respective companies; mine is waiting on the far section of the bank. Five minutes on that bank seemed like half an hour. Bullets whizzed by us not even a foot above our heads, some men made the mistake of looking over the rocks to see a glowing orange bullet traveling at a deadly speed. Finally, our commanding officer gives us orders. We are to take the steep hill on the left flank.

We cautiously creep up the steep embankment. It is hard to see through the dense haze. It seems almost out of nowhere there is a sign that reads “Achtung! Minen!” I don’t know what language that is; but that word looks awfully close to the word “Mine.” I take a step past the sign and hear a click.





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