The Only Difference
Friday June 8, 2012
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From Paris, France
D-Day +68 Years/2 Days
At Pointe-du-Hoc in Normandy with The Lad, Reed, for the annual D-Day commemoration the clouds were roiling, the rain was steady, and the wind was blustery.
Just like June 6, 1944 when 270 Rangers were ordered to destroy the German 155 mm heavy gun emplacements atop the cliffs. The craters from bombs and naval bombardment - some well over 10 feet deep even after 68 years - were still visible.
As were the huge chunks of reinforced concrete that one moment had been a heavily fortified bunker, and the next were a series of giant blocks strewn about like a child's Legos.
It was just like it had been. The difference was, we were standing atop the cliffs looking down at the beach, not standing on the pebbled beach staring up the face of the cliffs. We were wearing cameras and light rain gear, not 70+ pounds of soaked equipment.
Of these men, President Ronald Reagan said at the 40th Anniversary of D-Day:
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs, shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again.
Another difference: No one was shooting at us.
We walked along Omaha Beach which, at low tide, is about a quarter mile from the water's edge to the bottom of the bluffs. Again the weather was dicey, just like it had been when the first waves of humans came ashore to free Europe from the grip of the Nazis.
The only difference was the beach was flat, the sand was hard, there were maybe a dozen people doing what we were doing unlike June 6, 1944 at dawn when the Allies assaulted a beach some 35 miles from end-to-end covered with barbed wire, metal obstacles, mines, and having no idea if they would survive the next step, much less the rest of the day.
And, no one was shooting at us.
The reason Reed and I were in Normandy was because we have been talking about taking a trop there for decades and this year The Mullings Director of Standards & Practices decided we were going; and so we went.
Just a few hundred yards from Utah Beach, a ceremony took place dedicating a statue of Major Dick Winters who was the central character in the brilliant story of E Company E, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, The Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose.
Dick Winters was from Pennsylvania and returned there after the war. One of the speakers at the ceremony, the President of the Easy Company Alumni Association, said "Dick Winters never made a tactical error in the field."
Winters died in January 2011 but only agreed to his likeness being used if it were made clear this was not a memorial to him, but to all the junior officers who were thrust into positions of leadership, who were wounded or killed, but at all times understood their mission.
The memorial was organized by Tim Gray, chairman of the World War II Foundation and who conceived of this project, has overseen the fundraising that is just a few yards shy of the finish line and saw the project through to fruition.
Former Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Ridge keynoted the event along with the current Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, Maj. Gen. James McConville. Ridge said, "There were many Dick Winters in this war and all deserve the bronze and glory of a statue."
The weather, again, was blustery and rainy. The rain held off during the ceremony, then returned with a vengeance, soaking most of the people there. Just like 68 years ago.
The only difference was, we had cars and buses in which we could take shelter, and the Utah Beach museum to have a warming cup of coffee.
And, no one was shooting at us.
We have wanted to go to Normandy for many years, The Lad and I. We just never got it organized.
This year was my wife, his mom, handled the logistics for our trip not unlike the original planning for Operation Overlord.
The only difference this year was, we got to go and pay our respects.
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to a short history of Pointe du Hoc, to the CBS coverage of the memorial dedication, to a bio of Dick Winters, and to the WW II Foundation website.
They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.
In place of a traditional Mullfoto, there is a photo of the Dick Winters Memorial taken by an AP photographers.
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