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Landing at Omaha Beach
Normandy lay close, though the mist hung before my boat with such thickness that about me I saw only the men perched along my row. My stomach rolled with the wave’s gesticulation, the vessel rising and falling upon the ocean surface’s undulation. The wind blew across my face like a rough whip, the droplets of rain smacking my skin; a loud ambiance of precipitation struck our hard helmets, the metal keel, and the oceanic plane. All else appeared grey and silent, a purgatory of soldiers stuck between a paradise and an inferno, life and death, home and Omaha Beach. That thought could not escape my focus. I felt it present in each man’s demeanor, our down-trodden and somber spirit thicker than the haze, the surrounding fog the physical culmination of our mental state of being.
I peered over the ship’s side, seeing the dark, black sea, deep and frightening, its contents lightless. The sound of sloshing water filled my ears, churning my stomach while I imagined myself pushing across the shore, my feet kicking up sprays of water as I lunged toward safety. Though, it was quite possible that death would find me before my head even found the surface upon jumping from the ship.
For hours now I had begun to shiver, the wet, metal benches beneath me hard and cold, the air biting my skin so sharply I thought it were hungry. I examined the rope tied around my waist, again pulling it to ensure that it did not break; for my whole life, swimming had been a lacking talent of mine. And now, of all places, here I sat, waiting to be dropped into the deep. The rope to which I was tied extended to my sergeant’s waist, who had taken it upon himself to drag me ashore as he, himself, swam; I had never in my life felt so dependent on another, however I knew that there was nothing I could do about the situation. I could not swim, and that was my own fault. Here I paid the debt for that deficiency. Oh, if only I were to have some shred of courage within me, or if about me there was not a dearth of frivolity, that perhaps I might not have felt so sick, so tired, so utterly anxious. Certainly my lack of magnanimity translated directly to my stark pale visage, my eyes sullen and my posture tense.
I closed my eyes and attempted to see my home once more; the image of my house came to me with rough clarity, the white painted façade of my residence, the green trees of summer extending over the house like a natural umbrella, the chair-filled farmer’s porch. I could remember how the heat of the sun had once felt on my skin when I played in the yard, the family there and my neighbors present, too. Such a time I did once have… such a time. But now the feeling of that warm sun was lost, only the wet weather soaking my uniform, encumbering me with its weight. No; I shook the current moment from me. I wanted to stay in my memories and merely reminisce. I could hear the sounds of the grocery market my parents had owned again, of which had once employed me, the lines long and the people impatient but at most times friendly; oh, and the bread’s aroma wafting from the bakery, taunting my appetite each noon as my shift’s break approached. However, the only smell about me now was that of my comrade’s.
My mental drift was knocked from me as the motors began to slow. I quickly looked ahead, the fog clearing to reveal a monstrous cliff, a colossal precipice of hard rock; I could see from here the German bunkers, guns protruding from the rock faces. And then the bullets flew.
The speed with which these guns shot caught me off guard. Only seconds after the fog lifted did the men around me fall beside themselves, wounded and killed before our ship itself even came near to landing. In retrospect, the only reason I had not been shot first was that dead bodies had fallen upon me, repeatedly absorbing the machine gun’s heated frenzy. A holler attempted to break through the deafening sounds, a man shaking my shoulder, beckoning me to move with his arm. Though as he waved me on, a series of bullets rained between us, severing his hand from his arm and his head from his shoulders. The strength of the firepower sent him backward and over the ship’s railing. And then I realized that it had been the Sergeant. The blue rope attached to both of us reeled up and over the vessel’s railing. I panicked, my sergeant’s dead weight pulling me overboard with him and into the water. As quickly as I could, I attempted to reach into my uniform and withdraw a knife to cut the rope connecting me to my Sergeant, though apparently his body had fallen with such great speed that I hit the water quickly. The iciness of it pierced me. Salt was of such abundance that my eyes burned as I opened them; but I had to keep them open. I had to cut the blue rope connecting me to my sergeant’s dead weight.
But, no! As the sergeant’s mass pulled me after him, I realized that I had dropped the knife from grip as I, too, fell. My mind raced as my oxygen decreased, my hands scurrying over my body in hopes to find another back-up knife, though under my mind’s whirl I could find on my person nothing with which to cut the tugging rope. I was yanked deeper and deeper, my sergeant’s body sinking rapidly, other bodies, too, plunging into the ocean around me, bullets penetrating the black abyss, the ongoing war a muffled cacophony. I could do nothing but pull at the rope around my waist, it so tight that I could not even squeeze out of it, the army knot growing taut in the freezing water. And as I screamed, I knew no one could hear my cries. My head dizzied, my lungs filling with water, as I could not help but breathe. And just as quickly as the battle had begun, my consciousness ceased.
Darkness seemed to grip me for hours, I confusing the blackness with death. Though, eventually, my eyes opened once more. I could not see for a moment, the sun now beating down with such brightness that I could not discern my surroundings. But as my eyes adjusted, I could see that I still laid on Omaha Beach. I lifted my head, waves washing over me, and I rolled upon my back when suddenly a searing pain released down my leg’s length. I looked to my calf—it was gone. Everything below my knee had been shot off. I screamed, but instead of sound, swallowed water emerged from my lungs.
The voices of men in the distance trailed into my ears, and I looked about, seeing along the beach groups of soldiers scouting for survivors amongst the piles of overwhelmingly numerous corpses. As I gazed down the coastline, the sand had been dyed with newly shed blood, waves washing over the deceased to spread the color of death across the beach. I so desperately wanted to call out to them, to let them know that I was alive, that I needed their help to survive. However, exhaustion strangled my limbs with so strong a force that I could do nothing but lay and feel the saltiness of my soaked uniform rubbing against my open wounds.
I jumped as a hand touched my right shoulder, the same shoulder that my sergeant had touched.
“You okay?” the soldier inquired, and I looked to him to see that along with him were several men, a stretcher in hand.