Saturday, June 06, 2015

Channel Crossing

I wonder what it was like for a 19 year old, or a young father of 23, or maybe even a grandfather crowded into a landing craft with no roof, wearing thirty pounds of gear, being tossed up and then sideways by the water, hearing but not being able to see the explosions, the machine guns, smelling the diesel and the salt, and hearing the muffled prayers and Hail Mary's around you in the close quarters.

And then to hear and feel the craft's bottom scrape against and stop atop some hidden sand, stopping with a surge of bodies trying to stay themselves inside this now very small topless box.

To hear but not quite see the ramp of a door that has been in front of you the last several minutes, disappear in front of you, exposing a view of several meters of water and then a narrow ribbon of beach.

To hear "let's go!" and be part of the collective push out into the now exposed air, to step off the ramp and sink ankle, knee, neck, or deeper into the water, struggling to balance, to breathe, to gather your bearings.

To see the bullets in the water, the explosions only heard before, on the beach and in the water. Those last few meters of water must have seemed an eternity.

The beach, your goal, turns out not to be the sanctuary you imagined. More bullets, coming faster and closer as you haul and strain to get your salt water soaked body to safety. You finally see the bodies, if you hadn't seen them in the water, some barely on the sand and others who made it farther before dying in France.

Afraid to go forward, with nowhere to return, you consider digging a hole right hear to wait until the chaos abates. If you are still enough, maybe the gunners won't target you.

But you can't. That's not what solders do. This isn't about your survival. This is about mission, about taking those cliffs. This is about living or dying with your squad, your platoon, your company; those guys who mere minutes ago were packed into that boat.

And so you move. If you die here today, you die. With any luck, you won't feel it. For these guys around you, wherever they are now; you owe it to them. Try to find where the bullets are coming from, is there a pattern to them, and some place to which you might run. In a water and now sand soaked uniform and gear.

And so a little prayer, a push off the ground with your hands, and your labored knees and legs - a short run through sand and another fall. Hoping the gunners haven't seen you, that you will somehow run between or around the bullets and explosions.

It seems this will last forever; that you will collapse before reaching the base of the cliffs and the expected safety of their shadow.
So these soldiers, why did they do this? Why did Britain, the United States, Canada, and others sacrifice their soldiers, their neighbors, their sons, husbands, and fathers on this and similar beaches today?

Because they knew that liberty sometimes has to be protected with blood; that there is real evil wrought by tyrants, despots, and narcissists who have been given, or who have taken power.

It will take a few more months but they will find that not only did these maniacal fanatics want their own empire, but that they had kept their populations in fear by selecting groups of people to kill in various ways, in heinous ways, in despicable ways.

Yes, sometimes liberty for others requires the blood of their fellow humans. This is the cost required of the family of Man. To avoid this sacrifice when it is needed in the face of tyranny is irresponsible, dastardly, and an abandonment of our common existence on this planet. It is arrogant and shallow.
Worse, if it can be worse than arrogant negligence, is that it is breaking trust with the soldiers who died today, liberating people they did not know.

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