My grandfather died a few months ago. We had never been close, and I haven’t seen him in 25 years. My mom was real close to him though. One of the stories she told me after his passing was about a school project she had worked on as a girl. She had brought home some textbook about D-day and World War Two. After looking at it for about 10 seconds, her dad sat her down at the dining room table and started talking. The truth in this story is above this sentence and the fiction is below:
If you want to learn about D-day, I’ll tell you exactly what happened. I remember waking up to my bunk-mate shaking me, “it’s time, it’s time.” He kept saying it over and over again, even after we were finished dressing. I knew that it was going to be a big day. I couldn’t talk though. There was a lump in my throat that stretched all the way into the bottom of my stomach. I skipped breakfast, and grabbed two peanut butter sandwiches and a Coca-Cola bottle stuffed into a brown paper sack. I rolled up the open end of the bag so tight that my sandwiches smashed up against the bottle. I fit the whole thing in my back pocket, and walked like a zombie to my post. I was proud that morning to be 19 years old, on a Tuesday morning, with the power of a .50 caliber violence making machine gun in front of me. It was mounted on the most feared boat in the history of mankind, the U.S.S Texas. I was going to fire that thing all day, until not one of the Nazi jerk-suckers was left standing on Utah Beach. I didn’t want any of them to have an identifiable body part to send home.
So I took my smashed lunch, and the pride of a 19 year old Irish Catholic from Sommerville, Mass with me into that gunners seat. It was early in the morning and the stars were still out. It was scary quiet for about an hour or so. I had set my lunch under my seat, settled in, and closed my eyes for a while. The nervousness, and emptiness in my stomach started to make me shake. There was nothing I could do accept light one of the cigarettes that I had hidden in my canteen and wait for whatever it was that was about to happen. I knew for sure though, that it was going to be a long day.
I thought about your mom while I smoked that cigarette. I thought about Sommerville and Boston, and how far away they were. The Atlantic ocean was much bigger than I thought it was. No wonder Columbus was convinced he had sailed around the world. Then I heard the planes. They rumbled like all the trains at South Station were rolling through this living room. And they dropped bombs, big ones. I could see every single one of them land, the fire, the death they caused. I could see the Nazi guns start to shoot back. Every single time a bullet left the ground I could see the powder burst from the end of the barrel. To me, they looked like morse code. They were sending S.O.S. signals to the world, because they were surrounded, and they were going to die today. After what seemed like years, and was most likely a matter of minutes, we were given the order to fire. The largest weapon in the Navy was unleashing every last ounce of power onto a well deserving group of Nazis. I was still 19 when I opened fire on Utah Beach. I kept squeezing the trigger on my .50 cal. as hard as I could. I was aiming for a turret post near the tree line with my first 4 shots. After that I was just aiming at the flashes from gunfire in the smoke. It wasn’t until hours after the cease-fire order that the adrenaline rush began to leave my body. It was overtaken with sadness and regret. That Tuesday morning had aged me.
The sun had come up by now, the planes had stopped bombing. We had stopped firing. I was just watching as the boats rolled in, like waves. Literally, every wave that hit the beach had hundreds of boats, and soldiers, and they were advancing because there was no room behind them. The soldiers brought in on one wave were pushing the soldiers already on the beach, forcing them into enemy fire, over and onto land mines. They were pushing the soldiers in front of them to their deaths, because they were getting pushed from behind. I remember thinking that there was no more room on that beach for dead bodies. I remember feeling guilty for sitting behind that gun, knowing that those young men had grown up with me today… and that they had died.
I remember thinking about how sad it was that these men had crossed the Atlantic Ocean to die on that beach, Utah Beach. I knew that those men were 19. I knew them to be my friends, and my brother. I knew those men would never go home. I’ve always felt sick to stomach when I think about that day, which turned into 60 straight hours in that gunner’s seat. I watched it happen, sitting down, on the biggest military weapon in the world.
His eyes had been watering on and off until just then. He started to cry for real. He gave me a hug and he said that “all I could do was watch. If your teacher wants to know how it happened. You can tell her that it was a Tuesday. That we had peanut butter sandwiches on a giant boat. And we had a near perfect view of a beach in Utah.
— Lee St1 —