I was there

(written from a prompt about being a famous person)

I was there.

I was there at Omaha as the Americans came in onto the beach so very early on that June morning. The strong winds were playing havoc with the navigating of the last couple of hundred yards and many of the guys to our left hit the sand in the wrong places. Before we floundered up to our necks through the water to get to the beach, I counted at least ten landing craft swamped by the rough seas and in others I could see the soldiers having to bail out with their helmets just to keep themselves afloat. Uncharted sandbars brought numerous LCAs to a shuddering halt, leaving the trapped men stationary targets. Everywhere I was aware of troops vomiting from seasickness as the craft bunched up and bobbed around, queuing for their appointment with the shoreline.

But still we went in regardless: me with the 29th Infantry Division, untested in battle, along with part of the US Army Rangers, and the battle-hardened 1st Infantry Division, all unflinching in the face of both nature and the enemy.

I was there at Easy Red, one of the ten codenamed destinations, stumbling forward in amongst the heavy fire from the German artillery and automatic weapons which wiped out many a line of struggling men, the gun emplacements above the beach remaining undamaged by the earlier naval and air bombardment as shells and bombs dropped too far inland. As we crashed onward with knees doubled up, hidden under the sand lay the mines, leaving us a single footstep away from oblivion, and if we were lucky enough to miss those, the wooden stakes, barbed wire and metal tripods formed a crazy obstacle wall to hold up progress, giving the snipers up on the cliffs easy shooting practice.

By the time we made it to the shingle, having crawled three hundred yards ahead of the incoming tide, I reckoned half the guys were down. There we were, safe from the small arms fire but still with shells and mortars popping all around, leaderless packs of virgin soldiers cowering together. I gazed around, watching men beat the ground with frustration as they were unable to even return fire, their weapons needing to be cleaned before they could employ them again, sea water and sand having rendered most temporarily out of use.

Looking back down the beach, I could see the lines of tanks which never made it any further than the tide line, with more floating around some ten metres offshore, like toys in a child’s bath, hopelessly drowned by misinterpreted deep water. Things became even more confused when soldiers aiming for Dog White landed on top of us, creating a bottleneck of uniformed ducks for the hunters up on the cliff tops to pick off.

I was there. John Lazarus Long. In the midst of the bullets, the shrapnel, the shells, the screaming, the obscenity-laden charges up the wet, sucking sand. I was there. I actually saw it.

Just how any of the men made it up towards those high rocks astonished me. I guess it was a choice of stay on the beach and be mown down or at least have a small chance of survival by flinging yourself on towards  those natural rock fortresses. But there they were: the butcher, the baker, the schoolteacher, the hot dog seller, the clerk, the labourer, and no doubt somewhere, the candlestick maker, all launching themselves over that killing ground in the name of liberty, or more likely, their Mom, their sweetheart, their comrade.

Two hours after we first stumbled into the water I saw the troops start the assault of the cliffs, some inspired by a crazy courage, others more likely bullied by an inspirational leader. Heck, I was standing right next to Colonel George Taylor when he barked out the immortal words “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die – now let’s get the hell out of here.” Those words sent a shiver down my spine, heaven knows what they did to the soldiers.

Suffice it to say the guys eventually got the work done although it was two further days before they linked up with the British at Gold Beach. It was wonderful to see them start to inch slowly inland but by then I’d achieved my objectives. It was time for me to move on back.

And what’s my part in all this? Why am I the famous person? Well, you see, John Lazarus Long is now a very famous person indeed. But my now is 2280. And I have just become the first man to successfully use the time travelling suit which took me back to those events so long ago. As I was the one risking everything, three earlier attempts having ended in fatal failure, I got to choose the time slot to aim for. There on that beach at Omaha I saw my distant direct relative fall in a hail of machine gun fire, at last no longer just another Missing In Action. And, strangely enough, I calculated around about the very same time, somewhere back in New York, his wife was about to go into labour.

As I stripped off the suit and everyone around me cheered and began downloading the memory streams I’d collected, I tasted the salt on my lips from the tears flowing down my cheeks. And I thought of the salt John Lincoln Long had probably tasted as he collapsed into that seawater on Omaha Beach.

 

 

 

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