June 19, 2021

Subject: Why D-Day Must Be Taught to Young Adults: “The Dead and Those About to Die”

Micah 7:8 “Do not gloat over me, my enemy – when I fall, I will arise.”

Ed Croteau

I just do not get the new wave of television shows that somehow are supposed to cause a sense of awe and admiration for the bonehead things people do… like “Naked and Afraid”, where people go to extreme climates, completely undress, and then let all kinds of insects invade their private parts, go without food for days on end, and reach near-death situations without getting paid… so they can feel “alive”.

But this latest upcoming show on Discovery Channel, called “Pushing the Line”, takes the cake. Here’s a group of 20-somethings whose motto is “Most people are afraid to die, and we’re scared not to live.” First, while they are trying to walk on a tightrope device hundreds of feet up, they are secured to the tightrope with a safety rope. If they really wanted their motto to make sense, ditch the safety rope.

But secondly, that’s living? Whatever happened to raising a family, being responsible to care for others? Self-sacrifice for the good of someone else? Serving other people instead of self-gratification? What I get out of these shows is same theme: “I want to figure out how to make a living doing anything but a real job, where I must work hard and be held accountable to others.” We are living in a narcissistic culture.

We are two weeks past the 77th year since the D-Day invasion of Allied forces at Normandy. The average age of the men who landed on the 5 beaches on D-Day was 20 years old, about the same age as the kids in that TV show “Pushing the Line”. I wonder what many of these heroes would say about what real living, real self-sacrifice for others, looks like?

How about asking Frank DeVita, whose job it was to drop the ramp on the boat as his unit landed at Omaha Beach? Ramps on Allied landing crafts acted as shields – until they were dropped. Frank’s testimony, taken from the History Channel website, tells us: “This was our shield as long as it was up. As we approached the shoreline where the water hits the sand, and the machine guns were hitting the front of the boat—it was like a typewriter,” DeVita, who was barely 19 on June 6, 1944, remembers.

When he was ordered to drop the ramp, he paused. “I figured in my mind when I drop that damn ramp, the bullets that are hitting the ramp are going to come into the boat. So I froze.” But then the coxswain again yelled at DeVita to lower the ramp, and he followed the order. “I dropped the ramp,” he said. “And the first 7, 8, 9, 10 guys went down like you were cutting down wheat…They were kids.”

In his epic book ‘The Dead and Those About to Die’, author John McManus recounts the true story behind the Hollywood movie ‘The Big Red One’, which was the name given to the 1st Infantry Division that landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. McManus begins by saying “I visited the graves of nearly 100 1st Division soldiers who were buried at the amazing Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach today.

What I hoped to do is to bring these guys to life again as real people: that they were young, that they were scared, that they were just ordinary Americans in this circumstance.” But they are the true heroes, responsible for the freedoms we all have today – including those “Pushing the Line” 20-year-olds.

McManus shares the story of Colonel George Taylor, Deputy Commander of the 1st Infantry that day on Omaha Beach: “Colonel Taylor knew amphibious warfare. He had developed two strong opinions about any invasion: the beach was death and inertia was the mortal enemy of success. ‘In a landing operation, there are two classes of men on the beach: those who are already dead and those who are about to die.’

This notion of the dead and the soon-to-be-dead was never far from his mind. On the beach, men were like penned animals, just waiting for the slaughter. Taylor had seen too much death in this war, and he had no wish to see any more. His troops were like family.”

Colonel Taylor landed at Omaha Beach with his troops under unending machine gun fire and mortar attacks and proceeded to move up and down the beach shouting to his men to keep moving, with his now famous phrase “There are two kinds of men out here! The dead! And those who are about to die! So, let’s get the hell off this beach and at least die inland.” The number of soldiers who saw, heard or watched him was in the hundreds. He led men off that beach, part of a heroic assault that secured victory that day.

He epitomizes Micah 7:8, our verse this week: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy – when I fall, I will arise.”

Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.