When my grandfather landed on this, Utah beach, three days later, there was still smoke in the air and the remnants of the struggle. And this wasn't Omaha, the other American beach, where the struggle was fiercest.
It is hard to imagine the logistics of dropping 24,000 men from the air and 160,000 men by sea. Of obscuring the buildup. Of knowing you stood a good chance of dying, and a safe landing was only the start of a long struggle.
It is hard to imagine the collective fear and uncertainty felt by those men in the boats, throwing up on the rough seas, in the dark, salty air, knocking around in strange boats with doors on the front.
Now, here is a picture of Canadians as they landed at Juno beach:
They are, as you probably noticed, carrying bicycles, although not in the orthodox Tacchino Cyclocross way. This Canadian is heaving his bike through the water (see red circle), like a caveman dragging his female back to his cave.
Can you imagine how that command went out?
Officer/race director: All those signed up for the Normandy Cyclocross event: the date and course has been finalized.
Officer: You'll have to park, if you're driving, in England. We'll provide a sea shuttle to the coastline. Now, keep in mind, it'll be a rough voyage even to make it to the beach. The water along the way is mined, the skies are full of Messerschmidts, we'll be completely exposed, we could capsize because our boats suck.
Men: No kidding?
Officer: Hey, this is Normandy cyclocross. No bitching out. So, suppose we do make the "beach," which, to be honest, means "anywhere within 100 yards of shore," a good number of you will drown because you're carrying so much stuff and the waves will be rough. We haven't even talked about the guys with guns who'll be shooting you yet.
Officer: Now, if you make it to shore, you'll find no cover, so don't bother lying down or crawling or any of that nonsense. Just run as fast as you can toward where the sand ends and the ground tilts upwards. We don't really know how far that is, by the way.
Men: What about barriers? Can we bunny hop them?
Officer: Afraid not. These barriers are concrete walls ten feet high ringed with barbed, mines, and your own bodies may be piled so high that you find it difficult to pass, so I'm afraid there will be no bunny hopping [wink].
Men: [Obligatory laughter].
Officer: This whole time, the Germans will be reigning fire on you from the sky, from their 88s, their mortars, their machine gun nests which are buried in impenetrable concrete, lobbing grenades at you, and so on.
Men: Where does the riding the bike part come in?
Officer: Well, that may or may not happen. Of course, you'll have to carry your bike the whole time. Not like the Americans who are simply invading.
Men: That's no fun.
Officer: Oh, and one last thing--let's make sure those bar-ends are in. Don't want anyone getting hurt out there.
Happy Veteran's Day. We owe you guys.