You’re nineteen years old. It’s the middle of the night. To the right and left are thirty other men, jammed in tight, shoulder to shoulder. The airplane you’re flying in stinks of moldy canvas, two day old sweat, and gasoline. There’s only one window but you can’t see out of it and the engines rattle as bad as pennies in a soda can. You can’t believe the thing is even able to fly. A small red light by the nose of the cabin burns bright and you fixate on it, waiting for it to turn green so you can get out of there.
Before the war, you never even flew in an airplane let alone left your county where every person in your family has been born and raised. Now you’re thousands of miles from home going to a place you’ve only read about in history books. Suddenly, the other men on the plane stand up and so do you. You know what this means. General Gavins has instructed every man of the 101st Airborne to stand when he crosses into France, like a man would when confronted with danger. While you agree with this sentiment, you also know there is another reason. It’s going to get hairy and if you want to live, you better get out of the airplane as fast as you can.
You’re loaded down with sixty pounds of gear and ammunition so you waddle into position. You stare at the red light—no change. Then comes the order to check equipment. One by one, the men scream their number and that they are ready. When your turn comes you yell, “Thirteen okay!” Of all the numbers to have on this night of nights, you think to yourself. In the distance you hear a pop and all the men collectively inhale.
Through the open door, you can see bright lights twinkling in the night sky. Little at first, the explosions continue to increase until you’re right in the middle of it. The roaring is deafening as more and more streaks of moonlight burst into the airplane where the bullets have ripped a hole through the flimsy metal skin. One man goes down, and then another. You look at the red light, trying to will it to change to green but it doesn’t. A bright orange fire ball explodes and momentarily bathes the inside of your plane with light. That wasn’t flak—it was too big. The airplane flying beside yours just erupted into flames and pieces. It’s gone. They’re gone.
You look towards the red light and you barely believe your eyes. It’s green. Every man still able to walk shuffles towards the door. It seems like forever, but in reality it only takes a few seconds for you to reach the doorway. It’s your turn. In the flash you take it all in.
Too dark, too fast, too many enemies.
You can’t see more than a few feet beyond the plane. Men who are nothing more than a blur whip past you on parachutes not built to withstand this kind of speed. The pilots are going too fast, but there is nothing that can be done about that now. Below you the enemy guns light up the countryside. They are everywhere—and that’s your drop zone. You turn your face from the stinging wind and the chaos that is all around you and then you do it.
You leap towards evil…
A leap towards evil. That’s how D-Day started. 69 years ago today, frightened but determined boys (most of them were just teenagers) leapt from the night sky towards evil. And yes, the Nazi war machine was absolutely evil. D-Day stands for Departure Day or the day that an operation is scheduled to begin. In military circles it has another and more sarcastic meaning. Death Day, since this is the day that the dying starts. All the men and women who sacrificed so much during World War II deserve our thanks and our never ending respect. Time may lessen our appreciation of their heroic efforts, but it can never diminish their accomplishment.
They saved the world.
I am especially awed by the airborne troopers who were willing to fight a nearly unbeatable foe in his backyard. The troopers didn’t cower in a corner or wait for better times or more favorable weather. Instead, in the pitch black of night they leapt towards evil…
They leapt towards evil. Amazing.