…brave men stepped off the ramps onto a beach in northern France.
Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. They have a Higgins boat on display in the entry hall. I watched as an older gentleman walked down the ramp and took one big step off of the end.The man was of an age that that step wasn’t the easiest one for him to make physically. After stepping off of the ramp, he stood there for a few moments, then kind of nodded. He walked over to join a woman who I can only assume was his wife and, together, they made their way on into the museum. I thought about the men 70 years ago that may have stepped off of that very ramp very possibly into four feet of water with 85 pounds of combat load attached to them. Was this gentleman one of them?
As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell. I shut everything out and concentrated on following the men in front of me down the ramp and into the water.”
–Pfc. Harry Parley, 116th Infantry Regiment, US 29th Division
If he was one of them, I can only imagine what he has to have dealt with in his mind for 70 years. He may have had to transit 100 yards or more wading through the surf, then trudging across wet sand before he got to any kind of cover. As he was doing this, he may have walked past or even stepped on other men that had gone before him and not made it to cover. He may have been seeing others fall ahead of him who were transiting the same ground he was. He may have had to keep going as he passes other warriors crying for help and in pain because he had been ordered to do so for reasons that include the fact that, if he stopped, he was a softer target and that there were others coming behind who have been tasked with taking care of these guys. How would I have dealt with seeing his face, looking up at me and asking for help, for the rest of my life knowing I had kept walking?
There was this barbed wire area and a wounded officer who had stepped on an anti-personnel mine calling for help. I decided that I should go. I walked in toward him, putting each foot down carefully and picked him up and carried him back. That was my baptism. It was the sort of behavior I expected of myself.”
–Lt. Elliot Richardson, medical detachment
I wonder often if our current generation would have the fortitude that has marked that generation were we to be placed in circumstances like they were. Sadly, I don’t believe we would. I have a profound sense of gratitude to those that have sacrificed to provide us with the opportunities we now enjoy but, at the same time, I am saddened by what we have done, or not done for that matter, with those opportunities.
To those who are with us today, who were instrumental to the successes of that time in our history, you have my utmost gratitude, admiration and respect. When I say you were instrumental, I don’t just mean the brave men with the rifles. I mean EVERYONE. Those men with the rifles could not have done what they did without those sisters and mothers on the home-front making those rifles, airplanes, tanks and jeeps. They could not have done it without those kids pulling the wagons collecting scrap metal for the war effort. They could not have done it without those who gave blood as often as possible to take care of those fallen warriors. No matter what role you played in the war effort, make no mistake…you WERE essential.
And to those who never came home, we owe gratitude that is inexpressible. All of humanity needs to understand what we owe these warriors. As Tom Hank’s character Captain Miller said in the movie Saving Private Ryan as he lay there , dying, on that bridge in a foreign land…he said, “earn this.”