His helmet strap was drawn tight; nervous hands clutched his rifle while the landing craft bounced through the waters; ocean spray splashed over them.
With each surge forward through the English Channel, the soldier knew when the door dropped on his landing craft, he could be slaughtered even before he got out of the boat.
Many beside him were saying prayers; many were trying desperately to put their fears aside just long enough for a last and maybe final memory of a loved one back home.
These were the men about to hit Omaha Beach.
They knew the price of success was going to be high, but they also knew this was the critical moment of the war.
Failure was no option.
They looked around and saw others just like them … young men with eyes already holding a “thousand mile” stare. One of them was probably joking, trying to whistle past the grave yard; more than one were puking … fear, rough seas? Most were silent, waiting; some drawing their last breaths.
If they were “lucky”, their craft would get close enough to the beach where they could wade ashore; if not, they would be stuck on a sandbar and have to jump into deep water and hope they wouldn’t drown under the weight of their equipment.
It was a strange choice of “luck”. Survive the landing, only to be gunned down when the door opened; survive the landing, only to be slaughtered before you could reach the beach; get to the beach only to be cut to pieces with shells and explosives. Maybe survive all of that, and yet still not get off the beach alive or in one piece.
It was time.
The boat commander, platoon leader were shouting; the door dropped and the men started running … into history.
The American Cemetery is perched on a cliff, overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel; 9,387 U.S. servicemen are buried at this hallowed site.
Today, President Obama said he was honored to be at this place on this day, “to pay tribute to the men and women of a generation who defied every danger: among them, our veterans of D-Day.”
He called Omaha, “democracy’s beachhead”.
President Obama said, “It was here, on these shores, that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom”.
He said their story should remain “seared into the memory of a future world”.
I agree with our President, and I am glad that he made the point to be at today’s memorial.
I hope the scene and weight of that historic day truly touched him and reminded him of why so many Americans are determined to honor those sacrifices by protecting our Constitution and Democracy.
(We need to set the record straight regarding Obama and D-Day.
Despite some internet chatter, not every President has traveled to Normandy to mark this date, and President Obama is the first President to visit twice.
President Ronald Reagan was the first; he was at Normandy in 1984, for the 40th Anniversary.
President Clinton was at Normandy in 1994 to mark the 50th Anniversary.
President George W. Bush attended the 60th Anniversary in 2004.
In 2009, President Obama was at the 65th Anniversary of the landings.)