Those of us who have been to combat all have our D-Day. For most of us, it wasn’t called that. Sometimes it was; many invasions and operations have had their start day, also called, “D-Day,” but there is one day that forever bears that name. It is the symbol, ever since June 6th, 1944, of D-Days. Ever since that D-Day, it has affected all of us who have had our own D-Day. For me, that effect began as a child.
In movies, books, and in my imagination, I tried to understand what the thousands of men who participated in that operation went through. It set a standard in my own mind for what a Soldier must be willing to do, to endure, to brave. It inspired, shocked and loomed over me. I was in awe of those who rode the C-47′s, gliders, and landing craft. The exploits of the Rangers at Point du Hoc humbled me. The catastrophe at St Mere Eglise shocked me. The carnage of Omaha Beach overwhelmed me.
The bravery of those who jumped, crashed or made the landing stunned me. How could I ever live up to that? How did they? What, I wondered in my young mind, separated the living from the dead? Was it skill? Was it determination? Was it blind, dumb luck? I wanted to live. I pictured myself as the tough survivor. I found no empathy for the dead in my young mind. No, that wouldn’t be me.
D-Day was the calliope of war going full tilt all at once. Hundreds of thousands of individual stories, thousands of ships, aircraft, landing craft, and the terrible crescendo of all that noise. To my mind it was an overwhelming scenario, and the humanity of it overwhelmed my mind. So many men, each with a life and a history of their own. So many experiences being had in such a small area. So many individual acts of bravery and valor; many of which eventually came to light and so many of which will never be known. So many lives and their stories ended.
It was so much to ponder. Too much. I can never get it right.
For myself and my generation, and for generations that follow, it sets the benchmark. Cries of “Currahee!” still inspire feats of amazing courage, and raise the wounded from comas. Young Soldiers, particularly in the Airborne, are still bred with stories of their regiment’s legacy from that day, the night that preceded it and the months that followed it. That legacy sets a benchmark that generations of young men attempt to measure themselves against. I was one of them. There is no reaching that standard; only striving to come as close as one can, to do one’s job under such horror, to not let one’s compatriots down. To move one’s feet though hell and horror await.
My D-Day was anticlimactic in comparison. My baptism of fire was practically gentle in contrast to the roar and confusion and mass fear that reigned on June 6, 1944. Nothing that I have tasted, though it may be in some small way similar, truly compares. I remain humbled. It will forever remain unknown to me what I would have done when the ramp door dropped, or when the green light lit. They knew. They felt. They did. For so many, it was the last thing that they ever knew, felt, or did. Each risked that, knowingly, and did anyway… and became legend; the greatest generation.
I stand in amazement. I am struck by their courage, I am overwhelmed by their experience. I am grateful for their actions. I am humbled by their sacrifice. I am astounded by their grace. I am led by their example.
I am free by their choice.