I nearly forgot. Today was the 6th of June. A day which not so very long ago brought heroes and cowards out in the full light of strafing gunfire and murderous artillery on the beaches of Normandy. We’ve all seen the movies, read the history books, heard the accounts of survivors and observers on the History Channel specials. Year after year we mark the day, perhaps remembering, as I did today, a little later each time. Was not so long ago. Was not so long ago.
Sixty-one years. Barely a lifetime. Yet nearly eons in the poor memory of human waste, misery, and selfish indulgence. We forget so quickly, learn so little.
It was a landing on one of the most critical beaches, certainly critical to Eisenhower’s battle stroke. Other options were surveyed. Each had their own measure of danger and disaster in nearly equal measure. But it fell to Normandy, a fluke of weather and landing point of unparalleled access to the western sphere of Europe. Hitler’s, and the Nazi death knell began the moment the first machine gun bullet pinged against the first landing craft, the first in an Illiadean venture to claim, not a city for a cuckolded husband and king, but two continents and hosts of people from the tyranny and barbarous evil of Naziism and fascism. Fundamentalism at its most vain and iron-willed.
Exact figures are still unknown, but it is estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 Allied men died taking the beaches. The casualty rate on the first wave attack was 50%, an unparalleled number in war history.
61 years later, we try to remember, imagining what it all means now, in our enlightened day of knowledge and smug satisfaction. Imagining that it was different then, the circumstances more dire, the compromises and complexities of today not inside the landing craft as the men faced metal murder. We imagine the nature of the human condition to have been a different shape than it is now.
History in the making, we all are. 61 years isn’t a lot of time. It just seems like it. And our hearts remain the same. Well…some of our hearts…