Today is the Day of Days.
June 6 2012
This morning I placed flowers on the graves of
Robert Sweatt's crew buried
in American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. It got really personal for
quite a few minutes. Especially by Saunders' grave. I think he might have
had it harder because he was alive once the plane exploded. He was looking
for a chute in the debris field as they fell. He didn't find one.
It's one thing to write the story 6,000 miles away and 68 years later. It's
another to actually be kneeling on his grave, knowing what he went through
the last minutes of his young life. If I had known I was going to cry, and
not just quietly but in big gulps with my nose running uncontrollably, I
would have packed some tissue.
Saunders is located about 10 yards from General Roosevelt. As I knelt
crying an immensely fat Brit in a fake WW2 American 82nd Airborne uniform
(AS IF) pontificated and told jokes to a crowd of lively Europeans.
For the French, and most western Europeans, this is a day of celebration,
the beginning of their liberation. As an American I find very little to
laugh about today, especially standing amidst 9000+ graves of Americans who
came an awfully long way to lose their lives.
But that's just me.
A beautiful pathway beckoned down to the beach. As I reached the incredibly
soft, peach sand, an American passed me and then quietly began filming the
beach with his cell phone. As he filmed he spoke quietly to someone very
important - Grandfather? Uncle? - telling him that he knew he was there with
him now on the beach, and that he was sorry he had died there.
I walked down to Wiederstandsnest 62. Climbing up to the gun emplacements I
sat just where the German machine gunner Hein Severloh had used 17,000
rounds of ammunition on the incoming Americans. He had a clear field of
thousands of yards up and down the beach. Our boys didn't stand much of a
chance. Bob Watson, my friend in California, would know.
As Beachmaster he stood on that beach directing incoming men and material,
loading wounded up on empty landing craft, and clearing debris. To you, Bob,
congratulations on surviving that hell, and thank you for your service.
Please take some time to think of all those boys who didn't make it past the
tideline on this day 68 years ago, and who still lie here overlooking the
beach where their blood drained into the sand and surf.