Much has been written about D-Day, and much deserves to be. Various films have been made about it; I am told by those familiar with infantry combat that the most realistic of these is "Saving Private Ryan;" one grizzled combat veteran once told me that the only thing missing from that movie was the smell, a mixture of blood, smokeless powder, high explosives and shit.
I was too young to remember D-Day, but I do remember the veterans who assembled every year at the small New England drop zone I used to jump at. They were 82nd and 101st Airborne, some of the 24,000 men who had been dropped, by parachute and glider, into the German rear areas to disrupt the inevitable German counter-attack. They knew that this was likely to get them killed, but this was their job, and they went ahead and did it despite a colossally FUBARed drop which scattered them all over Normandy. They were fighting men, and once on the ground they moved to the sound of the guns and fought, cutting roads, telephone and telegraph lines, and German throats. I never had the temerity to ask them what it was like, to be dropped behind enemy lines, in pitch darkness with flak guns and radar equipped night fighters shooting at you before the light turned green. I vaguely sensed that I had no right to ask that question, to ask these men, all in their late 50s and 60s when I saw them, to relive the terrors of their D-Day experience, although I was desperately curious about where they had been and what they had done and seen. Even then, I knew something of history, and my curiosity almost exceeded my good manners. Almost, but not quite.
I was honored to pack their chutes for them, though, forgoing the 5 bucks ( the equivalent of 20 today) I usually got for packing a main. It was little enough, but it was a tiny token of respect for men who had, perhaps terrified to the point of pissing or shitting their pants, gone ahead and done what had to be done, who had honored their oath and their comrades, and who came out, once a year, to remember those who would remain forever young in their memories, those who did not come back. They remembered too those comrades who had survived the drop but who could now no longer join them, and they gathered to reassert, for just a few minutes, the spirit that animated the All-Americans and Screaming Eagles in 1944. They are all likely gone now, and few people remember them or what they were, and did.
But I have never forgotten them, or forgotten that these men, who were younger when they jumped into the chaos that was Normandy in 1944 than I was at the time, had put on their gear and done what needed to be done despite all of their fear, their confusion, their unit cohesion having been totally broken down, and the chaos that is combat. They fought, many of them beside total strangers, many of them to the death, for various reasons, for freedom, to honor their oaths, to end the totalitarian police state that was Nazi Germany, for their buddies, but the key is that when it was needed, and no matter how screwed up things became, they fought. They fought and they killed people, people who needed killing, not because those who they killed were necessarily bad individuals, but because they served an evil cause.
So, too, did the men who landed on Utah, Sword, Omaha, Gold and Juno beaches; they killed men that needed killing, because those who they killed served an evil cause, because those who they killed, many of them decent, religious men, (some of whom knew that they served evil) would not move out of the way and let them pass.
So when I think about D-Day, I think about men, lonely and isolated in the darkness, some literally scared shitless, who dug deep inside themselves and found the courage to seek out well-trained, armed men who needed to be killed. And sought them out. And killed them. It is not those who died that I think of most, although they deserve our respect, but rather those who killed and lived to kill again, those killers that made the difference. It is solely because of those men and many others like them that the horror of collectivist totalitarianism was defeated, for a time. Now we face it again and you, gentle reader, who may also be scared, alone, and not sure who or where your buddies are, must decide what you will do with those who serve an evil cause. Will you honor the memory of those who fought, on D-Day and many other days in many other places, for liberty and against evil?
So, today, and other days, consider the lessons of D-Day. And hope that those presently exercising authority do so as well.
To all who serve the Light,