Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Beach, Boys

1100px-Omaha_Beach_Nowadays

That’s Omaha Beach at low tide; the invasion was timed so the sea was as far to left as it goes, all the way up to the darker sand near the green cliffs. The beach is only around 250 yards wide then: that’s still a dash, in race terms, meaning you can sprint it flat-out the entire time. That’s on level ground, I suppose.

The landing craft had shallow draws, but could only get as close as 50 yards in; the men were wearing fifty pounds of gear strapped to their back and legs and arms, and the ocean took some before the Germans could. This is what it looked like:

1024px-Into_the_Jaws_of_Death_23-0455M_edit

Look closely at the ship’s hull. It’s made of wood; most of the landers were. They were known as Higgins boats, after the company that made most of them. The company got the contract because they could make them fast and cheap. So did the company that made German bullets, but those were still made from metal.

Fifty yards to the beach, and then another fifty to the Shingle. The notch in between the waterline and the cliffs, the little step-up you’d never notice if you weren’t being shot at? That’s the Shingle, and it’s the only natural cover on the beach; if you crouch behind it, the guns on the cliffs can’t get an angle on you.

The Germans had mortars, which were parabolas that killed you; and rifles, which killed you in a straight line; and machine guns that went from side-to-side.

You couldn’t stay at the Shingle, though, because there were men behind you. There are about 250 yards left until the cliff bluffs, which are safer than anywhere other than the Shingle, which you have to leave. The bluffs are not safe at all, but they contain the small gulleys which are the only path off the beach, which you need to cross.

Sand is tough to run on, and you have a fifty-pound backpack and a ten-pound M1 Garand, and you are cold and soaking wet which you are fine with because it means no one can see that you have pissed yourself. You are 22 years old and this is your first time in Europe; before the war, you had never been out of Ohio or Brooklyn or Texas. There is a half-written letter for your younger brother in your fifty-pound backpack and you need to cross the beach, which is about 250 yards wide and made of sand, which is tough to run on.

Behind the pillboxes are the tanks, and then the fortifications, and then the bridges; they could go to hell for the moment. They were not the beach, which is about 250 yards wide and you do not know whether there are mines in it. It seems like something they would have mentioned, but the briefings are hard to remember now. You have never smelled this smell before, and your name is Hank or Ed or something reassuring like that, but you go by a nickname because it was the 1940’s and men wore hats and had nicknames.

The Shingle is behind you, and the cliffs are in front of you. General Eisenhower needs to get to Berlin and you need to go home and the only path is across this beach, which is about 250 yards wide.

9 Comments

  1. For my family members in the military going back to the 1860’s through Viet Nam, and in WWII (4th Inf DV and 88th Inf DV) from France up to the Hurtgen Forest and in Italy at Cassino (detached) the battles for the Gustav Line, Rome, Arno River, PO Valley Gothic Line…thanks for posting this.

    Fucking Google couldn’t be bothered to note this on their main page, which the usual for them. But you did and it’s appreciated
    .

  2. the Higgins boat was made in New Orleans LA and tested in lake ponchartrain. Hundreds of them rolled off the line, made of south Louisiana cypress. The last remaining extant Higgins boat is now at the WWII museum in the city on Andrew Higgins Drive. If you are ever in our city, make a point to spend a day at the museum. If you are lucky you will get to meet a member of the greatest generation, men who quite literally saved the world, one harrowing sandy step at a time, and you will know the true meaning of sacrifice for the greater good.

    TOtD this is worthy of those men. Well done.

  3. If the semi-fictional universe thing never goes big, you can probably get by writing war novels.

  4. Derpovonburpo

    June 6, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Best thing you’ve written

  5. Great post, the Canadian boys (14000 of em) were storming Juno Beach that day.

  6. Yeah man, this really ranks up there with your best. My only personal connection to that war was my grandfather who was in navy demolition, but I found this very inspiring.

  7. hugh.c.mcbride

    June 7, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Fantastic post (no surprise there, by the way). I had the opportunity to be in Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day (2004). Without a doubt one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life. The width of the beaches that those men had to cross, and the sheer vertical drops of those cliffs that they had to scale, all while under continuous enemy fire, is staggering. Not a big fan of tossing grand labels on entire generations, but for the folks who hit the beaches those days, I don’t think “greatest” comes close to describing who they were & what they did.

  8. Very nicely written. Thank you for the D-Day comment. Americans don’t appreciate these extreme sacrifices that were made.

    By the way, I just received my “Make America Loud Again” shirt in the mail. It’s a nice shirt.

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