(June 4, early for June 6): If you ever stand at the beach at Vierville-sur-Mer — otherwise known as Dog Green Sector, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France — that’s when you really, really get it. That’s when you first fully fathom the desperate courage born of sheer necessity and the fearsome carnage, the conjoined elements of the D-Day landings.

This is not some beach 50 yards deep with the promise of decent protection from strafing bullets once those 50 yards have been traversed. This is a wide, flat killing ground, more than 400 yards of open sand punctuated only by the shallowest protection of a lone shingle bank, itself still 200 yards from the still-only-partial cover of a steeper hillside.

This was the landing site for the real-life men who were models for the fictional “Saving Private Ryan” characters. They already had endured a long night crossing the channel, in dreadfully rough weather, probably weak and disoriented from seasickness. For the final 200 yards on the water, the German machine guns would already have been riddling their Higgins boats. Then, unceremoniously dumped into frigid, churning water, colleagues exploding in blood all around them, they would have found themselves finally on dry ground but without refuge from the Nazi weapons.

Weighted with wet clothes and hefty equipment, they had to make it 400 yards through flesh-ripping fire. In gym shorts and track shoes, most of these men might make it in about 80 seconds after a lung-busting run. Now imagine trying it with 60 pounds on your back or in your arms. And do it while running into the horrors of mechanized firepower.

They could try a weighed-down version of a sprint and get there, oh, maybe in three minutes. Or they could go on their bellies and slither, hoping that somehow by being at ground level they’d better escape the bullets. Either way, they had to go forward, into the bullets, because they couldn’t stay still or go back…..

[The full column is here.]


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