Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Early this morning sixty-three years ago thousands of airborne soldiers jumped into the dark skies over northern France. They were the first wave of what would be the liberation of Europe: D-Day.
In a time of "phony war", when our "leaders" have to keep reminding us of how we're fighting for "freedom" - note all the quotation marks in the preceding sentence - it might be well to recall a time when were really were fighting against a deadly enemy, one which, had they won, would have initiated a new Dark Age.

Soldiers have always been a double-edged weapon: we do things that no decent, civilized person would or should do. And yet, sometimes, because we do those things those we fight for will never have to. This was certainly true for the citizen-soldiers of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who landed in the hedgerows around St. Mere Eglise early this morning those many years ago. Their example, and the memory and honor of their service, lives on in the motto of the "Panthers" of the 82nd Airborne - "H-Minus"! I was and always will be proud to have worn that crest, and the red beret that has come to symbolize all those who ride to battle on others' wings.

Those men, those who lived through that terrible night of fighting in the streets of the little town, who lived through the fight across France, the Low Countries and into Germany, are old now, and falling away faster than June wheat under a Norman's scythe.
And it is because of this that I wanted to stop and remember them. Not the "heroism" of their war, because - in our debased time when merely being in the same grid square that a hostile round lands in is "heroic" - for most soldiers being a "hero" is about as voluntary as being caught the wrong way on a moving escalator. Not to celebrate the "Greatest Generation", which, like all people in all times, were not so much born to greatness as had it thrust upon them.
Rather, it is just to try and put into words my love for those men I have never met, who, like me and my friends and brothers and comrades, had to face their fears and doubts and step out that door into space. But unlike us, knowing that whatever waited for them it would be bad and worse before it got better.
So now you shuffle toward's death's darkened jump door, guys. It's black, and you're being shoved and shuddered by forces you can't see or control. The fear is as much of the unknown as of the pain and fright you know await you after you pass through that opening. The shadowed face of the jumpmaster at the door holds no enlightenment, no warnings or cautions to help you out into the night.
No matter who and how, we all have to pass our static line to that jumpmaster and jump out that door. It is never easy and it is never simple, just as in war the simplest things are hard. Thing is, you did it once. And because you did, all of our lives are better and brighter.
So here's to you, guys. May you exit clean. May your 'chute deploy perfectly. May you drift down through the clear night sky, free, this time, of tracer fire and the merciless flares. To find your home, the heart of rest, whatever and wherever that may be to each one of you.
Thank you.

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