War is hell

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

“We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” From Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. 

It is the Sunday after Memorial Day and toady we honor another anniversary. I am struck by how appropriate President Lincoln’s words apply when we remember June 6, 1944. Seventy-seven years ago, the Angel of Death had a big day. If no one else had died elsewhere that day, it would have been enough death for him. To say that it was a slaughterhouse on those five beaches of Normandy is not an exaggeration. Over two thousand men fell at Omaha Beach where the Americans landed. And that was just one of five beachheads.

Thousands of eighteen, nineteen and twenty-year old American, British and Canadian farmers, grocery clerks, teachers, young men from families both prominent and  ordinary died on those, facing down the Nazi war machine. Just to mention one community: Bedford, Virginia suffered the greatest losses of any American community that June day in 1944. They lost nineteen young men on those beaches in France. And thousands more were to die before Fascist Germany surrendered in 1945.

If you think it is easy to defeat an enemy as determined as Nazi Germany, think again. Then see the storming of the beach in “Saving Private Ryan”. Steven Spielberg’s re-enactment of the beachhead the Allies made at Omaha Beach may very well be one of the best re-enactments of war on film.

As we see in the film, this was war, and war is always costly. For both victors and losers. This was Thermopylae. This was Gettysburg. This was Iwo Jima. And this was D-Day, one of the greatest battles in history. And what were these young men dying for? Nothing less than the survival of democracy.

The next time you think of superheroes, don’t think of Superman or Batman, Captain America or Ironman. Think of that kid who, against his instinct for survival, did not run away. Rather, against impossible odds, he rushed a German machine gun nest to take it out to save his brothers-in-arms from a certain death. That’s guts. That’s courage. That’s a real superhero.

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