“I’m not a coward; I’ve just never been tested. I like to think that if I was I would pass”, Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Knock on Wood. That song lyric has always made me think about what I would do if I were one of those young men being tossed about in a Higgins boat a few moments before the ramp is about to drop on the beach and the world around me erupts with machine gun fire and mortars.
I try to imagine myself, wiping the sea sick vomit from my chin, thinking about my best girl at home and looking at the helmet of the man in front of me. I think I’d be praying in my head as well, telling God that I’ll do whatever he commands of me if he gets me through this shit. I imagine looking at my best friend, whom I was in basic with, he’s trying to smoke that final cigarette but it’s got his own vomit on it and won’t light. I hear the Captain in the background telling us to stay calm and steady.
All I can think about is making it. Making back home. Making it back to my family. Making it back to finish a life barely started. The boat comes to an awkward stop and the ramp drops. The two men in front of me are obliterated by machine gun fire and I’m pushed forward by the men behind me. I lift my weapon and start firing as I move forward. I’m not sure what I’m shooting at but I’ll be damned if I don’t make a go of it.
June 6th, 1944, the Allies began their amphibious assault on Fortress Europe. For those of you that aren’t aware, the landings in Normandy, France by the Allies were the largest amphibious landing in war time history. There has never been another like it. It’s important to remember the sacrifice of those men that lost their lives trying to liberate Europe from Nazi control.
I can only imagine the horror and fear in their stomachs as they loaded onto the Higgins boats and started the long and dangerous trip toward the beaches. It must have been complete terror. I have a hard enough time getting out of bed in the morning and I feel like a really big wimp whenever I think about those men, facing enemy fire, charging inland. I feel bad when I complain that my train is late or there’s no coffee in the break room.
It makes me feel like I’ve lived a life less important than theirs, even if their life was tragically cut short by German machine gun fire. I’m far older than most of those young men that spilled their blood to rid the world of a true enemy. I have them to thank for letting me get to the age I am or even exist at all.
This is why history is so powerful for me.