The Greatest Generation: Patriotic and Honorable
For each one will bear his own load.
For fifteen trips on June 6, 1944, he ferried men from troop transports to the beaches of Normandy. After eighteen hours his day was done. He learned a lot about himself and life that day. These were things he couldn’t and wouldn’t verbalize for seventy years until a chance meeting at the seventieth reunion in 2014, coaxed by Tom Brokaw while standing on the very beach to which he’d delivered scores of very young men.
On his first trip at dawn, German machine guns were sweeping the beach, and bullets made repeated clanging noises on the side of his boat. When it was time to lower the ramp, he was nervous and unsure how the soldiers would escape the bullets. As the ramp went down, he got his answer. Many wouldn’t escape.
Most died or were badly wounded.
He saw horrible mutilation. One young man lost part of his head and fell at his feet. Another mortally wounded man fell next to him. All he knew to do was to hold the young man’s hand and say The Lord’s Prayer. As he softly spoke the words, the wounded soldier calmed and squeezed his hand tightly, dying quietly while listening to the prayer.
To get the ramp back up, this 125-pound soldier had to remove bloodied bodies and ninety pounds of equipment from the ramp. Miraculously avoiding the bullets, he was only able to move them two to three inches with every tug.
When the ramp was finally raised, he and the pilot saw a Red Cross hospital ship and steered for it as opposed to their troop transport. Leaving the wounded there, they headed back to the transport. When the boats all were gathered, they asked for a volunteer to brief the generals. But this was a job that would take this brave soldier out of harm’s way. Instead, he said to himself, “This is what I trained for, and this is what I am supposed to do.” On his face in a later interview when he relayed this moment, you could see the seriousness with which he’d made this decision.
A burly sergeant visited him before the second trip and put his massive hands on the man’s shoulders to calm him. The sergeant told him to wait for the bullets to stop before putting the ramp down during the next trip. Machine guns had to change barrels every few minutes. During the quiet period would be when he knew the barrels would be changing. It was a simple method that would give the brave young men a few more seconds and a chance to get off the boat safely.
Seventy Years Later
He remembered how young the soldiers were—barely adults. These were young people with a life ahead of them. Many were less than twenty years old and had less than a year’s training. These brave young men were jumping out of a boat onto a beach to fight German soldiers who were much older and with as much as four years of combat training and experience.
He explained that the American soldier fought for peace and to free Europe while the German soldier’s cause was significantly less noble. They fought for tyranny, which weakened their resolve. General George Patton would later explain that once you were at the back of a German soldier, they would surrender. They fought not for humanity but because they were told to.
After his interview with Tom Brokaw, many said this man should write a book. He tried, but the first few pages he wrote became soggy from the tears he shed—tears he had held back for seventy years. He had seen death and the gruesome reality of war. He’d buried it and come home, married, and raised a family.
Later, he found a way to communicate his story. He visited colleges and schools. He spoke at large organizations. Wherever he could, he spoke. He had only one goal—to tell the story of those brave men he carried to the beaches and to share the stories of gallantry and heroism he saw. Each time he told his story, he shed tears. The spoken memories squeezed the grief out of this humble man.
His generation suffered through the great depression, a period when 25 percent of Americans were unemployed. They were dragged into a war that nearly cost the people of the world their freedom. This generation carried the cross they had to bear and did it nobly—not because they were told to but because they were raised to care about right and wrong.
Thankfully, we all have a better life because of them.
Later the Baby Boomers and Millennials became the new models. As time passes, the reality of how great that generation was dims. Remarkably, when this man was asked what he thought about the new generations there was no scoffing. He simply said, “They are better and more intelligent than mine.”
Maybe we are little smarter, but we are not more noble. Neighbors and neighborhoods were places of strength for that generation. Mothers raised every child in the neighborhood. Being earnest was more important than being flashy. Humble was in vogue and “meism” was frowned upon.
He is ninety-four today.
Being ninety-four today, he looks decades younger than his age. He is serious, and his eyes are tired now, but they still show the honor of this great, everyday American—a man from a generation that carried the burden of saving the world.
If you want to meet him, you can! Click the hyperlink https://youtu.be/5Zx3X08saO8. This footage is very raw and emotional, but it is a wonderful and serious conversation by a true American hero. Sorry about the ad at the beginning; this is YouTube’s new policy.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
Photo original posted by the History.com