A recent email I sent in response to an on-line conversation about the current state of affairs in the US:
My father landed on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944 in the first wave, as a Combat Engineer. It was his job to clear the beach of tank traps for tanks which would never arrive. The water was too turbulent that morning and all the tanks sank before reaching the beach. But destroying the traps was not an option anyway, because they were the only thing to hide behind to shield soldiers from incoming machine-gun fire.
Eventually the surviving few, filled with rage at what was done to their comrades, did the only thing they could do: sacrifice their own lives to kill the bastards who were killing their friends.
So it was that the mines intended for tank traps were diverted to destroying the fencing and barbed wire protecting the cliffs from being scaled by the GI’s. At a cost difficult to comprehend, they overtook the pillboxes and destroyed the German emplacements.
On the morning of June 7th, 1944 my father was the only one in his Company who was not a casualty of the first day’s fighting. He was unhurt. So they formed another Company made of the remaining remnants and he turned from combat engineer to infantryman.
He pressed into Paris, then into Germany. He was involved in the Ardennes, where he suffered his only injury of the war: frostbite to his feet. He was taken to a surgical tent where they intended to amputate both his feet. Outside there were barrels of hands, feet, arms, legs and assorted GI parts. He begged to keep his feet.
There was a nurse from his home state in the surgical prep area. She took pity on him. Throughout the night she rubbed his feet to restore circulation, while moving others ahead of him for surgery. At morning the waiting supply of injured were exhausted, and only my father remained awaiting care. They carried him into the room to begin the amputation, and the Doctor inspected his feet beforehand to decide how much to remove. The Doctor said he saw signs of circulation, and thought it might be alright to wait and see a few more hours. Everyone was exhausted anyway, and my father was in no hurry.
The next day the feet improved a little more. After a few days he was removed from the list to be amputated, and then allowed to return to fighting.
For the rest of his life his feet hurt him. But he never complained. In fact, the pain made him grateful, he said, to have his feet.
He never collected a dime of disability. Worked till retirement age, then went to work again. Worked until they retired him again. Then he worked part time till he was in his late 70’s.
As he was dying he returned to a hospital for the second time in his life. He was diagnosed with lung cancer on Friday, and died on Sunday. Saturday night he and I were talking in the hospital sometime in the wee hours of the morning and he remarked: “I can’t figure out why my life was spared when all those others died that morning.”
Warriors are not like those who live safely at a distance from the fight. But they only die once.