“The Sea, the Sea—It’s So Empty”

626px-NormandySupply_editThey said the LST could ride higher in the water when landing in trim. She hit the sloping beach, and the bow door fell and disgorged jeeps and tanks and finally men with hands to work. It was gray all round, the water, the sky, ship after ship beside, around, and behind as far as he could see, if he dared to look back.

He looked forward only. German mortar and artillery shells exploded, but he looked forward only—wreckage, strewn wreckage of metal, of flipped, ripped jeeps, of wire, of bodies, whole and fallen, of twitching pieces, arms here and legs there, of detached trunks spilling guts, of oozing, foaming blood.800px-Into_the_Jaws_of_Death_23-0455M_edit

His automatic-motion hands dragged and patched the broken living and passed them to other hands that stretchered them up the ramp.

The day thundered, but he distanced the noise. He heard nothing but the whir in his brain, punctuated by hoarse yelling or screaming. His hands, now practiced, moved with machine-like precision.

He paused once. Why Omaha? A city in a golden prairie sea. Why Utah? A land-locked state and a salt lake? But this Omaha, this Utah, opened to a dead sea.

Omaha_Beach_wounded_soldiers,_1944-06-06_pe

My parents and I traveled to the beaches in September 1994. Low clouds hung dully. My father glanced at the tourists wandering about. “It’s so empty,” he said. “The sea, the sea—it’s so empty.”

240px-D-Day_Cemetery_in_Normandie_(2746181491)A Frenchman in his fifties approached. “Are you a veteran?” he asked.

My father nodded. “Then we thank you,” the stranger said. “I am part of a group who makes pilgrimages to such places. I look out to that water and thank all those lost boys—all those innocent souls who lost their lives ahead—and say a prayer.”

Patches from My Crazy Quilt © 2014 Catherine Hamrick.  All rights reserved.

Time Capsule

Original invasion footage by The Daily Telegraph

Reel America: D-Day to Germany

In a hail of fire, Piper Bill Millin played troops forward on Sword Beach

World War Two through Robert Capa’s Lens

A Walk in Ernie Pile’s Footsteps

The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves by Donald de Lue, American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer

The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves by Donald de Lue, American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer

How Soon Will We Forget?

From the Op-Ed “D-Day Highlights Historical Illiteracy” (The New York Dispatch) by Daniel Burnett, American Council of Trustees and Alumni

–Just 40 percent of Americans know that June 6 is the anniversary of D-Day.

–Not even half know that the president at the time was Franklin D. Roosevelt.

–Among college graduates: 55 percent know today is the anniversary, and 57 percent know Roosevelt was president.

–Only 17 percent of college graduates knew the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation, and only two in five knew the Battle of the Bulge occurred in World War II.

–Only five of the top 50 public universities in the country require even one survey course on American history or government.

In recent years, undergraduate students have bragged to me that they do not need “useless” composition courses. Are history courses just as pointless?

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19 thoughts on ““The Sea, the Sea—It’s So Empty”

  1. A perfect day to release this one Storyteller. How sad that the younger generations are not made aware of the sacrifices these great folks made for all of us. They gave up their lives for us, yet our children are not being taught of their significant achievement. This is all over the world. The Educational systems can certainly do with some reforms.

  2. So powerful, Catherine. Thank you for this potent reminder of the incredible bravery these soldiers evinced and for the sacrifices they made that we cannot begin to fathom. This gives me lump in my throat….

  3. Remembering does matter. I had a bi-cultural childhood: German mother and US Army GI father. We grew up with war stories from both sides around our dining room table. We, as children, were not sheltered from the impact of war on our parents’ and grandparents’ lives and made us value our freedom. Bedford, VA is about an hour away from me and is a remarkably moving tribute. Sorry for such a long comment (Army brat pride!)

  4. Since my high school years were the WW2 years, I remember them well. I remember Roosevelt’s Fireside Talks on the radio and his speech about Pearl Harbor and my schoolmates who enlisted right after graduation and fought in Europe and the South Pacific. I lived on both coasts…New York from 194l to l943 and California for the rest of the war. Ernie Pyle kept us aware of what was happening. When Roosevelt died, it was startling and everyone was wary of what kind of leadership Truman would provide.As horrendous as his decision was, it ended the war and the killing of many more of our servicemen. Yes, today is a day to remember and to honor the brave men who fought on that shore.

  5. “He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow, and with much wisdom comes much grief.” If we study history, we are doomed to watch ourselves repeat it. Sorry, but I’m having one of those days when all seems vain. I need a trip to the mountains.

  6. Kilimanjaro is far from me, literally. I will try western North Carolina.

    My financial adviser had a client in his office, who mentioned as he was about to leave that he “was going to Kilimanjaro.” The receptionist looked at him in a puzzled way, and asked, “How to you kill a manjaro?” True story, that has probably happened many times around the world.

    The Masai reference causes me to remember the three Masai warriors crossing the plain in “Out of Africa.” If only I could have been a Masai warrior! Yes, I know: Call me Walter.

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