Friday, 6 June 2014

The Invasion Into France.

Seventy years ago today, on June 6, 1944, the Allied troops made an invasion into Normandy, France, an invasion that is known today as either D-Day, or the Normandy Invasion.

I write Historical Fiction Short Stories. And so, to commemorate this day, I give you Invasion Into France.


Someone’s elbow was in his face. Ben moved his head, and succeeded in getting his nose out from the squashing elbow only to bonk his head against the man on his other side.
“Hey, watch it, will you?”
Along the rows of men there came faint murmurs of grumpiness mixed with a few groans of seasick men. Ben didn’t bother apologizing; he felt too ill to say anything. Besides, the man was already trying to fall back asleep, and talking would only disturb him more.
Suddenly, they were ordered to get up and board their landing craft. Ben clambered to his feet and shoved his way with the other men out of the inside of the ship, his friend Pete by his side. A wave of cool, misty air met his sweaty face and he breathed in deeply, relieved to be out in the open. He peered towards the shore, but could see nothing. His stomach fluttered. Were the Germans lying in wait for them? Would they all be slain on arriving on “Omaha” beach?
Ben stared in the general direction of the beach code named “Omaha” and took a deep breath. The thought of plunging blindly towards a beach held by German troops was unsettling.
Squishing himself in between Pete and another man, Ben adjusted his helmet. He knew that this beach was one of the most defended ones the Allies were attacking, but he couldn’t keep brooding on that fact, else his nerve would break completely. It wasn’t that he was a chicken; he felt that he was brave enough to face the German guns and fight as hard as daddy. But all the same, he couldn’t banish the fear in his heart. As the landing craft lurched towards the shore, gliding through the veils of grayish mist, he turned his thoughts to Rachel, away for the beach.
“You’ll come back, Ben,” she said, leaning her head against his chest. “I know you will. Be brave. Trust God.”
“I will, Rachel,” he said. “I hate to go, but I have to. I wish I could have escaped the draft, but now I have no choice.”
She lifted her face to his. Her eyes were bright, with only a few traces of tears on her cheeks. “Daddy’s proud of you. I know he is, and I know he understands why you don’t want to go. He didn’t want to either.” Suddenly, a wave of sadness crossed her face. “I wish neither of you had to go. I hated the look on daddy’s face when he left.”
Ben nodded, remembering his father’s look of profound anguish at leaving home for Europe to kill people. “He was thinking of Grandpa.”
“Grandpa died when daddy was only eleven.” She pressed her face once more to his chest, her nose on his top button. “I’ll miss you, Ben.”
He wrapped his arms tightly around her. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?”
She nodded. “Mrs. Henry will take good care of me. Don’t you worry.”
“Then don’t you worry either,” he smiled, though his throat was choking up.
She looked up and touched his nose with her finger. “You’ll come back,” she said, repeating what she had told him only a few minutes earlier. “I know you will.”
He kissed her hair and gave her one last big hug. “Love you, Rachel.”
“Love you too, Ben.”
They didn’t say goodbye; she said it wasn’t necessary. He would come back. She stood by the curb, waving him off as the plane’s engines roared and it started down the runway. Ben pressed his forehead to the window and waved. She waved back, a brave smile on her face, no tears or blubbering.
She’s almost stronger than I am, he thought, kissing his hand at her. May God forgive me for what I’m flying to Europe to do. His heart trembled at the thought of killing, but there was no way he could escape his fate now. He was off to be a soldier, leaving his fourteen year old sister behind.
Ben stared towards the shore once more. He could see the shaggy cliffs, the rolling beach.
“Wonder how many Germans are hidden in those cliffs?” Pete muttered in a whisper. “This is my first combat, and I wonder if I’ll make it out alive?”
Ben shrugged grimly. “Only God knows.” This would be his first time as well, his first big battle. Holding his breath as the waves bounced the landing craft closer to the beach, he tried to steady his nerves. Beside him, the other men were deathly still and quiet, fearing the first attack from the Germans that they felt sure would come at any moment.
Peering once more towards the beach, Ben felt his skin go cold. Before the landing craft stretched wire, big clunky obstacles of wood and steel, and Ben guessed that beneath the surface of the water were land mines and other explosives. The mist was lifting a little, and he knew that now, as he could see the cliffs more clearly, the Germans could see the invading boats.
Suddenly, an explosion rent the air and the water just to the left of the landing craft shot up in a spray of foam. The air filled with a roar of artillery as the Germans let loose on the Americans. Ben clamped his helmet more firmly on his head, his eyes darting around. To the right, one of the other landing crafts blew up before his eyes as it hit a land mine. He winced as the smoke cleared, leaving battered remains of the craft floating among dead or wounded men.
The ramp was lowered and Ben tried to wait his turn and not create chaos in his eagerness to leave the craft. A bomb whistled through the air as he began to climb off the craft. As the weapon zoomed towards the craft, Ben flung himself into the water. A moment later he heard a loud explosion.
His pack was weighing him down; he couldn’t get up! With a supreme effort, Ben clawed his way to the surface of the icy cold water. Gasping for breath, he shook the water from his eyes and began to slog his way towards the shore. He glanced back once, only to see that the landing craft he had disembarked from only moments before had disappeared
Stay with my group, Ben thought frantically, forcing his way through the water. Bullets, bombs, shells, all screamed through the air, hitting men and landing craft, as well as supplies, jeeps and tanks that were trying desperately to get to shore. As Ben dodged artillery fire, sharp stakes, and barbed wire, his ears pounded with the hellish roar of the German guns.
Halfway there! Ben mustered up his courage and moved faster, away for the group he was with. A shell screamed towards him and for the second time he flung himself down into the choking, salty water. As he forced his way to the surface, his pack pulling on him like a lead weight, his head bumped something firm. Clearing his chest and shoulders for the water, he saw it was the remains of the body of the man whom he had banged with his head back on the ship.
Shuddering, Ben pushed forward. His rifle was long gone, dropped on one of his plunges into the sea, and he was now unarmed. He looked around for Pete, realizing he had not seen his friend since the artillery had begun to fire.
“Pete? Pete?” Ben yelled his pal’s name and almost immediately ran into him.
“Ben, I’m here. C’mon, let’s get out of here!”
The two young men scrambled toward the shore. They were almost there; only twenty feet or so more to go! The firing became more intense as the beach drew nearer and the Germans had easier targets. The water was full of blood, broken equipment and bodies. Ben was up to his waist now, and they both would have made it safely to shore if a bullet had not hurtled toward them, hitting Pete in the face.
“No! Pete!” Ben wanted to wake up for the horrible nightmare, but all he could do was grab his friend and keep moving through the water. Pete was an added weight to his already aching shoulders, but he couldn’t leave his wounded friend to drown. Suddenly, the true danger he was in sank into him as never before.
Dear God, please get me through this day alive.
*******
“Brennen nicht zu stoppen! Do not stop firing!” The order came sharp and harsh, resounding through the defense position. Oscar had no intention of stopping. Gripping his machine gun tighter, he kept on firing, letting a stream of bullets flow into the struggling lines of American soldiers. The men kept coming up over the sand, but many, many were falling prey to the relentless fire of the Germans.
“Versuchen und kommen, du dummer Amerikaner,” he hissed. (Try and come, you stupid Americans.) Pressing the machine gun closer to his shoulder, he crouched next to the slit in the Widerstandsnest.
“This is for my wife!” a man beside him shouted, shooting with an energy that surpassed his weak looks. “Americans killed her in a bombing. This is what they get for killing my Ana!”
Ana. Oscar shuddered a little, memories washing over him like a flood of water. The face of his old schoolmate flitted before his eyes. She was so beautiful, so full of life. He had dreamed of marrying her one day, back when they were in school together. But no, she had acted as if she hated him, scoring his bullying of the other students. But how could he have kept for being the school bully? He could never let anyone know that his great-aunt was a Jew. He would never have gotten into the Hitler Youth if people had known.
So he had concealed his family genealogy, and became the most feared child in his school. He had meant for Ana to think him as great and strong and brave. No, instead she had thought him mean, cruel and a bully. And she had stood up for that Jewish girl, Esther.
Esther. Another face, another person. The girl had been nice, and sweet, but she had been a Jew, and so Oscar had scorned her. She had been captured along with her mother on the night that he had helped with the raid on the Jewish shops and homes, and had been taken away, probably to some concentration camp.
Oscar had been proud of that, personally helping to cart Esther away. But then when he had seen Ana in school, one look at her eyes and Oscar knew that she knew what he had done. And she hated it.
He must get these memories out of his head! Oscar clenched his teeth together and poured all of his strength into his trigger finger. Forget the things of the past; what was important now was beating back the invaders, no matter what. His childhood might have been upsetting and filled with disappointments and unclarity, but now he knew what his purpose was. He would fight to the death for the Fuhrer.
Oscar’s eyes caught sight of some men pointing towards his Widerstandsnest. An army half-track that had made it onto the beach pointed its huge guns straight at the walls which held him and the other German snipers.
Knowing what was about to happen, Oscar leapt to his feet and tumbled out of the Widerstandsnest and behind some rocks next to the cliffs. He had grabbed his machine gun as he fled, but paused in his shooting, watching what would happen.
Sure enough, just as he had suspected, the tank fired its guns repeatedly at the Widerstandsnest and within seconds, the entire fortification was a pile of smoking rubble.
If I hadn’t seen that half-track, I would have been killed, Oscar thought, picking up his gun. He didn’t feel scared, or giddy with relief at the thought; all fears of war had left him long ago, leaving only a burning desire to beat the Allies. Grasping the trigger, he crouched behind the boulders and waited for a target to come into his sights.
*******
The joy of feeling solid ground without waves impeding him was short lived as Ben crawled up the sand. He was now a closer target for the Germans. He might be shot down at any moment.
Ben looked down at Pete. The man's helmet was gone and blood was gushing from the wound at his temple. Another man ran over and helped Ben pull Pete up the sand.
“Pull him over here,” Ben panted as he half carried, half dragged Pete to the cover of some criss-crossed stakes with barbed wire on the top that were meant to be a hinderance to tanks coming ashore. This, along with the rise of the beach, would be a little protection for the time being.
“Medic, over here, please! Wounded man!” Ben put his fingers in his mouth and gave a whistle, signaling a medic who had made it to shore live to come over. Rachel had been so jealous of his whistling ability. He smiled a little, picturing her vain attempts to copy him.
The medic hurried over. “I’ll take care of this. You men keep going.”
Ben nodded, though he didn’t want to leave Pete. “C’mon,” he said to the other man. “We need to move inland.”
“Right.” The man followed him for behind the cover of the stakes and into the danger zone again. Shells and bullets still screamed and rattled as they inched their way up the beach, flat on their stomachs. A man who had been trying to make a run for it  seemed to fly into the air like a bird, then with a twist and a half flip fell heavily on top of Ben as a German gunned him down. His blood got in Ben’s eyes as he shoved the dead man off of him and kept moving. Tears blurred his line of vision and he blinked to clear them.
Lord, this is awful. I never imagined war could be this terrible, The screams, God, the awful screams. It seems like everyone around me is screaming either from fear of pain. Please help me get through this. I don’t want to die. After giving this quick prayer, Ben got a hold on himself. Stay with your group, he thought firmly. Find your unit and stay with them. Follow orders.
But where was his unit? Ben lifted his head and looked all around. There, he spotted familiar faces crawling through a hole in the barbed wire. Ben moved to join them, his heart galloping in his chest as bullets flew all around him. It was almost like a game; try to get to safety before the enemy shoots you.
Ben almost laughed. Some game. A horrible, blood-thirsty, inexplicable game of warfare. The words of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the Civil War went through his head.
“It is well that war is so terrible-- lest we should grow too fond of it.”
Ben shuddered. He would never grow fond of war. He wished he were still back in the US. Why had he ever skipped a grade and graduated early? That had made him eligible for the draft. Many boys were getting drafted right out of high school, and he had had to be one of them.
He was through the barbed wire, and now there was a long stretch of grass in front of him. Smoke drifted over the ground, but he could still see the Widerstandsnests with their guns, and the fortresses armed with heavy artillery firing at the beaches and at the hillside where he and his unit were.
His unit was still ahead of him, crawling on their stomachs towards the fields and woods beyond the guns. If he could only make it to them, and then if only they could make it past the guns!
Ben drew nearer, trying desperately to join his unit, which seemed to keep tantalizingly just ahead of him. Scrambling to his feet, he began to run at a crouch, hoping desperately to keep from getting shot while he covered the distance between them.
Something buzzed against his side. A bullet. It had only scraped him, taking a chunk of flesh, nothing more. Blood came down in a small stream and he stuck his hand over the wounded area. The loss of the blood made his head swim a little and he had to grit his teeth to keep from crying because of pain. Rachel. I have to keep going for her. Just... keep... going. He blinked rapidly and his vision cleared a little as some of the dizziness went away. This isn’t half as bad as what others are getting. Reach your unit, get fixed up, and keep going. We have to win this invasion!
*******
It had been a chance for a perfect shot, but his grip had slipped, leaving him a not so impressive shot in the American’s side. Oscar spat and peered from his hiding place. Very well, he could finish the job quickly by putting a bullet through the man’s head, and then duck back behind the rocks.
The man had not fallen. Oscar blinked and stopped for a second. His bullet had torn a gaping wound in the young man’s flesh, but he was still walking, and hadn’t even fallen. What a disappointment!
Oscar sprang for the rocks and toppled the man to the ground. Why, this soldier looked to be the same age as himself. No matter. It would only be another dead Allie in a few moments.
He leveled the gun.
And the American heaved his arm up and knocked it upwards. The bullet went wild and Oscar was shoved onto the sand. They were both on their feet the next moment, circling, wary, cautious, each aware of their danger, not only for the other, but from the other soldiers for both sides. Shells and bullets still flew, but the little alcove of rocks protected them a bit from the fiery rage of the battle.
Oscar eyed his gun, lying on the sand where he had dropped it when the man had tossed him off. This soldier was unarmed. If he could just get his gun, he could take care of the fellow and be done with it.
Just move toward it slowly. Just be careful. And don’t let the American get my gun first.
*******
He had never expected this. He knew that he could get shot very easily, but here he was trying  to win possession of the machine gun lying on the sand between them. Ben flexed his fingers as he watched the German move slowly towards his gun. If he retrieved it, Ben would be shown no mercy. It was only by the mercy of God that he was still alive. How on earth had he managed to throw the man off of him anyway?
Ben moved towards the gun a little. Lord, if this is to be my last few minutes, please take care of Rachel. Comfort her. She’ll be all alone if I die, especially if dad never comes home. He took a gasp of air and lunged for the gun.
Several things happened all at once. Ben and the German grabbed the gun at the same time, there was a bang as the German hit the trigger and it went off, firing harmlessly into the cliff wall. Then another bang sounded and the German with a horrible cry was crumpling onto Ben, knocking him to ground. The German had been shot by one of the men in Ben’s unit.
Ben got out from under the soldier and backed away with a sigh of relief. His stomach churned a little at the man's blood. Was he dead? Cautiously, and knowing that each minute he spent on the beach was a minute more in danger, he turned the man over.
His eyes were open and full of such hatred that Ben gulped a little. Should he take him prisoner? Leave him to die? it was a head wound, and without help the young man would surely die within a few minutes.
Ben leapt to his feet and took off towards where he had last seen his unit. He needed to catch up with them and help carry out the rest of the invasion. The German was the enemy. It didn’t matter if he died. Right?
What would Rachel do?
The thought suddenly popped into his mind as he skirted the rocks and boulders, trying to avoid the gunfire. It made him stop, his heart pounding. He could just see his sister rolling up her sleeves and helping the wounded man, no matter what side he was on. He was sure she would help Hitler himself if given the chance.
But he wasn’t Rachel; he didn’t have to help. Ben took a few more cautious steps and reached an opening into some forests into which his unit had slipped only moments before. He could easily slip through the gap, past the German fortresses and join his commander and fellow soldiers.
He couldn’t go. He couldn’t move forward and leave that German, and then have to face Rachel one day and have her know that he had left a helpless man to die.
But this is war! he thought almost angrily. We aren’t supposed to be helping, we’re supposed to be killing! Killing off the enemy!
Where had that thought come from? Ben shuddered. Never had he felt that way before; so bloodthirsty, almost. That settled it. Dropping to his stomach, he crawled back towards the downed man.
When he reached him there was already a pool of blood around his head. Ben dropped down beside the fallen man.“Hold still,” he said quietly, knowing the man couldn’t understand, but feeling the need to say something. “You be a POW soon and I’ll get someone to take care of your wound.” He pushed his arm under the soldier’s neck and started to lift him so he could swing him onto his back. But the German slapped him, so hard that he stopped lifting and stared.
“Sie werden nie hat mich geschlagen,” (You will never beat me.) the man hissed, weakly, but with the same cold hatred in his eyes. “Ich werde nicht dein Gefangener sein!” (I will not be your prisoner.) Then, with a motion so swift that Ben hardly had time to register what the man was doing before it was done, the soldier grabbed the machine gun and shot himself in the head.
Ben dropped the body and threw up on the grass. His mind and stomach were both churning as he turned and crawled back towards the gap. He couldn’t get the young man’s eyes out of his mind. They had been so hateful, but also so.... so full of despair.
Oh God, don’t let me ever become like that, Ben prayed silently, his whole body shaking as he inched his way along the ground. Please don’t ever let me.
*******
Ben finally joined his unit, and they scurried past a fortress that had been disabled by a unit that had gone on before them. They were on their feet now, but still walking cautiously, ducking from hedge, to tree, to wall, trying to get rid of the Germans on the beachhead overlooking Omaha beach. Every now and then came the order to fire as a German patrol came near or upon them. Ben had been given a gun to replace the one he had lost, but every time he pulled the trigger, he felt as if a piece of his heart were being pulled out of him.
His wound had stopped bleeding, but Ben didn’t know how to take care of it himself, and no one else noticed the injury, so he said nothing. There were others who were worse off than himself who needed the medics. His job right now was to stay alert and upright, and to keep moving inland.
I wonder what happened to Pete.
“Open fire!” The command came quick and instantly Ben and the other Americans were firing repeatedly into a pack of German patrollers. Seven men fell and the rest ran away, and the Americans kept moving. Ben set his lips together. His mind would not rid itself of these images. He doubted it ever would.
As they moved around the bluffs and cliffs, the sounds of gunfire became louder and more violent, reminding Ben of the beach down at the base of the cliffs and grass from which he had escaped off of only around an hour or so earlier. Now here was more conflict. Would the fighting never end? He wished night would come.
The men scrambled over rubble from buildings that had been hit by artillery fire and began to shoot their way up the street. Ben’s head ached from the noise and he had a hard time holding up the gun. A German tank moved towards them gunfire spewing from its armored sides. A sudden wave of horrid panic engulfed Ben as he stared at the huge monster, visions of the recent struggle on Omaha beach coming back full force,and he almost ran away in despair and terror. His nerves were taut from the heat of the invasion and he felt as if he would collapse. Lord, I can’t do this! I’m too scared; how can I keep going? My fighting is no use and I can’t seem to rely on Your care! It isn’t enough! I need visible help!
Suddenly, Rachel’s face flashed before his face and he gripped his gun. Lord, forgive me. I have doubted your strength, and in return you have showed me that my little sister is indeed braver than I, for she trusts fully in You and does not despair. I was wrong, Lord, very wrong to say I couldn't seem to rely on You. Your help is enough. Forgive me. Please keep me safe, and please, please forgive me for this killing. I cannot escape it now. Keep me in Your hands, Lord. I need You, and I know You can help me.
Ben took a deep breath. At an order from their commander, the men turned their guns on the tank, which was still coming and firing furiously. Ben was thrust a hand grenade and he and some other one ran forward and tossed the small bombs at the tank. They did little, but then another tank, an American one, rolled up and took care of the German tank with its own enormous and powerful guns. In a few moments the unit was moving on, leaving behind the smoking iron of what was left of the tank. Ben felt relieved, but sick at the thought of them killed inside.
Then it hit him. God had answered his prayer so swiftly. He had sent the American tank to save them. Ben knew that God answered prayer, but never had he experienced such quickness in an answer before. The Lord had been with him all along. Ben had never needed to despair.
As they kept moving on, as bullets whistled and men cried out in agony and pain, as orders were shouted and men around him fell, as German guns still roared and German fortresses and Widerstandsnests crumbled from enemy artillery fire, Ben felt suddenly safer. It was as if a hand had suddenly come down and enveloped him, shielding him from harm. The pain he had felt moments earlier dissipated, leaving behind a cool sense of determination.
God, thank you. Please help me to fight as best as I can, and to help free the world of this evil force, but at the same time please help me to be kind and compassionate to both sides, as Rachel would if she were here.
As the unit moved forward, destroying German artillery and firing on patrols, all the time helping in their small way to force the who Allied forces inland, Ben fought as hard as he could. His heart still rebelled at the horrible killing, and each time he pulled the trigger he still felt awful and sick, but the blind panic and despair that had raged inside of him was gone.
*******
A cool breeze blew over his head, Ben stared up at the night sky from the trench in which he and his unit were huddled. The day was over, and the invasion, though bloody and not exactly as planned, had been accomplished. Many, many, many men had died, but they were entrenched in Normandy, France, now, and would keep pressing into Europe. Perhaps the war would end soon.
Ben felt his side gingerly. The wound had not been half as bad as he had thought, only a small chunk of flesh had been cut away by the bullet, nothing bad enough to put him out of combat in order to heal up. I sure have or had, at least, a lot of blood right under my skin, Ben thought ruefully.
A man next to him shifted. “Cigarette?”
Ben shook his head. “No thanks. My stomach’s had enough churning for one day..”
The man laughed; a tired, slow laugh, but a laugh all the same. “Name’s Hector.”
“I’m Ben.”
They shook hands and Hector titled his head to the sky. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
Ben shrugged. “Nope. My nose can’t smell anything anyway.”
Hector lit his cigarette and inhaled. “Wonder if this is the start of the end of the war?”
“I was wondering about the same. I only just joined up, but I want to go home.”
Though it was dark, Ben could tell Hector was eyeing him. “You’re only a kid. How old are you anyway?”
“Seventeen. I finished high school early when I was sixteen, in ‘43, and got drafted in January of this year. I didn’t want to go; I even tried to escape the draft. But the government caught up with me, gave me four months of training, and here I am.”
“You tried to escape it?”
Ben nodded. “I hate killing. I tried to go up to Canada, but they followed me and brought me to the drafting station. Then it was all up, and I could only obey orders.”
Hector blew out some smoke. “I was drafted.... just after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s been a long war.” He took a breath. “Your dad in the war?”
“He was drafted after the attack on Pearl Harbor, same as you. He didn’t want to either. I haven’t heard from him since I was drafted.” Ben leaned his head against the dirt wall of the trench. “Will it ever end?”
Hector put an arm on Ben’s shoulder in a fatherly gesture. “One day, I hope. Don’t give up hope, soldier.”
“I haven’t. God will help me, and get me through this war. If it’s His Will, we’ll win, too.”
“You a Christian?”
“Yes. God is the One I can rely on no matter what. I learned that He really does care this afternoon. I had doubts and fears, but He protected me, even though I doubted Him and was ready to give up.”
Hector sat for a moment in silence. “That’s very touching,” he said finally, snuffing out his cigarette. “Tell me more, if you don’t mind, about why God cares. And then we’d best get some sleep.”
In a whisper, and feeling a tingle of joy to be spreading the Word, Ben began to tell the Gospel to Hector.
Later that night, as Hector lay softly snoring beside him, Ben still stared up at the sky. Perhaps this was why God had allowed him to be drafted; to be able to spread the Good News to his fellow soldiers.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose.”
The words of Romans 8:28 flashed through his head and Ben gave a jerky sigh. All things for good. So many bad things had happened that day; the struggles, the pain, Pete’s injury, the conflict with the German soldier who had committed suicide, the fear, the doubts, the horrific deaths of so many men. But God had a plan and a purpose. He would work it all for good for those who loved Him. That meant he would work what happened to Ben for good.
Thank you, Lord, for that promise, Ben prayed silently. I know I’m going to see much, much more of this horrible war, but I know that You are in control and that no matter what happens, you will work it for good for me, because I love you.
The End.

1 comment:

Bound and Freed said...

Thanks for writing this one...