Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: History — Rick Moran @ 9:55 am

This article first appeared on June 6, 2006

It was 62 years ago that US Rangers stormed the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc near Omaha Beach. And as the veterans of that day grow oh so gray and bent, mere shadows of the lithe and limber youths who pulled themselves up the jagged bluffs, one hand over another, their comrades falling all about them, we are reminded that the word “courage” came alive that day.

Too often, we use that word in a base and cavalier way. A Hollywood movie star has “courage” because she revealed to the world that she’s a drug addict. A comic has “courage” because he made fun of the President of the United States to his face. A filmaker has “courage” because he made millions of dollars shooting a “documentary” which shows the US government complicit in the mass murder on 9/11.

And so instead of “courage” being a word with inexpressible significance and meaning beyond its simple definition, it has become a self congratulatory epithet, a hollowed out expression of empty promise and insincerity. Today, the purveyors of myth and shapers of opinion use the word to tell the rest of us who to admire and what to respect. No longer does courage imply sacrifice or a willingness to give all that one has for a cause greater than oneself. Instead, courage defines the selfish desires and overwrought egos of an ideology that sees more irony in the word than reverence.

All of this was in the future 62 years ago when the Rangers lived the word courage by taking the bluffs above the beach. And a short distance away at Omaha, Americans were dying, never knowing that their sacrifice was redefining the word courage for all time. For in their last bloody moments on earth, a titanic struggle was taking place between good and evil that 10,000 years from now, poets will still be singing songs and human beings will still be shaking their heads at in wonder and awestruck disbelief.

It takes genuine courage to confront evil. By its very nature, evil must defend itself by lashing out and destroying anything that attempts to get in its path, lest it perish ignominiously. Those representing good realize this which makes the confrontation between good and evil always a life threatening proposition and thus, an exercise in self-denial and sacrifice. The Rangers on the bluffs and the men in transports speeding toward bloody Omaha that terrible day 62 years ago knew full well what they were in for. They were willing to pay the price to defeat evil.

There were more than 700 war ships on the waters of Normandy that day, firepower never before seen on the open ocean. The men would be landing with tanks and guns and grenades and enough explosives to blow up a small town. But their most potent weapon by far was the courage to face their foes in open combat with the full knowledge that doing so was likely to get them killed. We ask ourselves quite properly, would I have been capable of such a feat? The answer will likely tell us much about ourselves.

Because in those last frantic minutes before hitting the beach, as grown men wept and prayed and steeled themselves for the supreme test of their young lives, they must have found something deep within themselves, something they could mentally and emotionally grasp and hold onto so real and palpable it must have been. What was it? An image of their family? A remembrance of love and closeness that wrapped itself around them and made them feel safe? Or perhaps it was the simple recognition of the here and now with a sublime faith that He that arbitrates our fate has placed me in His keeping and if these be my last moments, let them be meaningful ones.

Whatever rushed thoughts were coursing through their minds as they splashed ashore under some of the most intense combat ever experienced by American fighting men, their courage allowed them to disobey the most primal of instincts to flee for safety and walk into the teeth of the enemy’s fire. And then, the supreme test. Historian Stephen Ambrose:

They were getting butchered where they were all the sea wall because the Germans had it all zeroed in with their mortars that were coming down on top of them. And, “Over here, Captain,” “Over here, Lieutenant, over here.” A sergeant looked at this situation and said, “The hell with this. If I’m going to get killed, I’m going to take some Germans with me.” And he would call out, “Follow me,” and up he would start. Hitler didn’t believe this was ever possible. Hitler was certain that the soft, effeminate children of democracy could never become soldiers. Hitler was certain that the Nazi youth would always outfight the Boy Scouts, and Hitler was wrong.

The Boy Scouts took them on D-Day. Joe Dawson led Company G. He started off with 200 men. He got to the top of the bluff with 20 men, but he got to the top. He was the first one to get there. He’s going to be introducing President Clinton tomorrow at Omaha Beach. John Spaulding was another. He was a lieutenant. Many of them are nameless. I don’t know their names. I’ve talked to men who’ve said, “I saw this lieutenant and he tossed a grenade into the embrasure of that fortification, and out came four Germans with their hands up. I thought to myself, hell, if he can do that, I can do that.” “What was his name?” I will ask. “Geez, I don’t know. I never found out his name. I never saw him before, and I never saw him again, but he was a great man. He got me up that bluff.”

“Unknown but to God” and history, I suspect. In the end, whatever gave them the inner strength to keep going in the face of such murderous opposition, it was as inspirational then as it is today.

It is fitting and proper that we remember their courage today, the young men who lived and died the word courage. But we must also question ourselves about our commitment to that memory. Does it have meaning beyond the misty eyed reminisces of old men? Can we still summon forth the will to perform great deeds in a cause that reaches far beyond our narrow little corner of planet earth in which we live and love and die?

At the moment, the answer to that last question is unknown. But I daresay the fate of the nation rests upon a positive response. For unless we are willing to propel ourselves beyond our own selfish, comfortable existence and find the strength to confront the evil that seeks to destroy us, we are more likely to end up a victim of our own hubris rather than triumphant with the knowledge that we, like the men of D-Day, brought to life the word courage and made it once again something to be lived and felt in our hearts, ever mindful of the sacrifice of those who came before us.

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