June 6th, 1944, is the greatest day in American military history, ever, as far as I'm concerned. Thousands of brave American, Canadian, and British men rushed the shores at Normandy... many never even making it to the actual shoreline because of the shelling, MG44 machine-gun crossfire, or drowning from abandoning their landing craft and sinking with all of their gear on. The men had been giving a huge breakfast that day, too, and had a seasickness rate of about 65%. Bad, bad seasickness.
The ones that did make it to the shoreline lost even more.
The shelling continued (big artillery shells/little bombs exploding on the beach, sending shrapnel out like a thousand bullets in every direction... some of those bullets as big as baseball gloves... some as small as grains of sand--some were grains of sand). Then, if the shrapnel didn't get them, they had the concussion from the blast to worry about, which essentially shakes you to death.
If they survived those obstacles while watching their friends and fellow soldiers getting shredded and blown to pieces, they still had 800-1000 yards of beach to cross before getting to the bottom of the cliffs/hills where they could begin their assault on the bunkers that housed the enemies that were killing them by a factor of about 100 per minute.
That 800-1000 yards of beach is not only still being shot to Hell by the machine guns and artillery, but now there are land mines to step on, not to mention the machine guns are getting more accurate as you get closer. Moreover, those Hedgehogs you were able to hide behind initially (German chunks of tripodic metal meant to stop tanks and landing craft; one of four levels of barriers they had against landing craft) disappeared along that last 800 yards. Just bare, open beach, and running, charging men.
Estimates vary, but we lost about 6,000 men that morning of the Allied Forces (2,500 Americans), and that doesn't include the pilots and paratroopers that were killed the night before on botched bombing runs and drop zones, due to cloud cover.
I have two tattoos, and almost got a third. I probably would have if I could have afforded it. The thing I asked myself and answered before I got my tattoos was, "What can I put on my body that I will not ever be ashamed of?," and my answers were my daughter and my country, so I got tattoos honoring both. The third tattoo I almost got was going to be of the beaches on D-Day. I was thinking about adding an artistic element of making D-Day happen at night (maybe 4 hours before the actual landings). I still may get that tattoo.
Today is June 5th, 2011. I was at the local public beach with my girlfriend, her daughter Mallory, and her niece, Whitley. Whitley got cut. They were out on some rocks about twenty yards from the shoreline. I could see the blood coming from her foot. I rushed out to pick her up and bring her to shore, and the moment I picked her up and turned to walk back to shore, I stepped on a sharp rock and cut my own foot open.
We were both bleeding like broken dams. I kept telling Whitley that the water makes little drops of blood look like lots of blood. I kept my cool (matter of fact, I didn't even notice my own cut until one of them pointed it out, although I sure felt it when it happened... adrenaline does strange things to the mind).
We rinsed hers off in the water, and mine, wrapped our cuts in towels, and applied pressure until the bleeding stopped. Whitley said, "I feel funny." I asked what she meant and if she was dizzy. She said she was dizzy and a little sick. I told her to sit down but keep the pressure on the cut. What I didn't tell her is I was getting dizzy and sick, too. Sweat was pouring out of my pores. The nausea was staggering.
For just a moment, there, on that free, American public beach, I felt a sample of what those men at Normandy felt. In an effort to save something or someone that mattered to me, I was injured, and bled the sand red just as Whitley did. But even with all that drama, I can swear on all things precious that this statement is true: I didn't need to go through that to appreciate what those men did on D-Day. I really think about that day regularly and in high regard. But the panic, nausea, bleeding, cuts... it put me in the D-Day frame of mind, on a microscopic scale, for a few moments, and except for Whitley being cut, I actually am glad it happened, because it makes me feel closer to D-Day than I already was.
There is a reason they called them, "The Greatest Generation."
Please take two minutes to think about those brave souls that died that day, and what they lost to give us what we won.