De Bruhl Marshall - Firestorm

Author : De Bruhl Marshall
Title : Firestorm
Year : 2006

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Preface. During a visit to the coast of France in the summer of 1984, I found myself standing on a platform at the top of a stairway that led down to a beach. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny. From far below I could hear the squeals of children splashing in the mild surf, young men shouting to one another as they kicked a soccer ball around, and, occasionally, music being borne along on the slight breeze. It was a very different scene from that of four decades earlier, when the sounds coming from the beach below were those of one of the most desperate struggles of modern times. For this was Normandy and that place was Omaha Beach. I was on my own pilgrimage, just a few days after thousands of veterans and world leaders had come to this site for the fortieth-anniversary celebrations of the Allied invasion. I was just a boy in a small town in North Carolina when the Allies landed here to free Europe from the Nazis, but I vividly remember how my family gathered around the radio in our living room and listened to the live broadcasts from the landing sites. My thoughts that morning in June 1984 were of the cousins and uncles who had been with the invasion force. One of them, an infantry officer, saw his promising professional baseball career ended by a German bullet in the left lung. Another, the executive officer of a paratroop unit, was killed just a few days after landing behind the beaches - coincidentally, not far from where his father was killed in World War I. My sad but proud reflections were interrupted by the laughter of a young woman and two young men who were making their way up the long stairway from the beach. As they reached the landing where I stood, the girl suddenly exclaimed, “My God. What is this place?” The three of them fell silent. Spread out before them in perfectly ordered rows were the 9,387 marble Christian crosses and Stars of David of the United States Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Most of the men buried there were about the ages of these young people when they died on the beach below, or fighting their way up the very same steep bluff, or during the bloody advance inland after D-day. Those young people had come to spend a few hours at the beach, not to visit a battlefield or a war memorial, but they listened attentively to my brief but emotional account of the Normandy invasion, of which they knew nothing. It was as distant to them as the wars of ancient Greece. They then quietly took their leave to wander among the graves. ...

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