June was a big month for commemoration. The month kicked off with the 70th anniversary of D-Day and concluded with the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. I can’t even pretend to comprehend the courage of the men who served in these conflicts, much less the unimaginable horror they confronted.
A New York Times story recounts the experience of one surviving American soldier who landed at Normandy on D-Day. “What happened to us should never happen to anybody. I came in the second wave,” he said. His landing craft had to nose its way through the floating bodies of soldiers who had not made it to the beach. The German fire was so relentless that rather than venture any closer to shore, the landing boats dropped his unit in the sea about 350 feet from land. “And so we went down in the water… It kept going over my head…And I had a Browning automatic rifle across my shoulders and bandoleers of ammo, hand grenades and a gas mask, and I had to get rid of all that. Otherwise I would be drowned. “When I got on the shore, all I had left was my helmet and my gas mask — no gun…I picked up a gun … because there were so many guys that had been killed…guns were lying on the beach. And a friend of mine who was from Oshkosh, Wis., hollered to me to come over and have shelter from the machine guns,” he said, tears in his eyes. “Of the 560 of us who landed that day, only 240 of us were alive” at the end.
And that was D-Day. In the second battle of Ypres, during the First World War, “In the area around Ypres – including Hill 60, Passchendaele, Lys, Sanctuary Wood etc. – over 1,700,000 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded [along with] an uncounted number of civilians.”