The Last Full Measure

Leading up to the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I have been helping work on a mobile project that would act as basically an interactive brochure/map for visitors to the Normandy cemetery.

In addition to spending hours examining Google maps to produce our own stylized, georectified version, I needed to look at a number of photos taken down on the beach to determine what a few of the monuments looked like.

A few really struck me after days of looking at rows of white crosses.

In trying to find out what the “WN-62” marked on the map stood for, I found a site with photos of this Wiederstandsnest which brought home what happened in a way the LIFE photos of the landing have not.

DSC_7505a

I realized that a lot of those holes weren’t from the erosion of time, they were bullet holes. Here is the site it’s from, with a few more photos. From Wikipedia: “[Heinrich Severloh] says he fired on approaching American troops with the machine gun and two Karabiner 98k rifles, while comrades passed ammunition to him until 15:00. He claimed to have fired over 12,000 rounds with the machine gun and 400 with the rifles, giving a total weight of ammunition of over 560 kilograms.”

And this one was just so powerful as it went by in the image search, that I had to read more. Look at it in full size, and it really evokes how this place has been hallowed by the sacrifice given here.

return-to-d-day-1
Army Sgt Major Robert Blatnik returns to Omaha Beach, Normandy France (credit: Doug Dunbar/KTVT/KTXA).

Mr. Blatnik, at 93 years of age, wanted to go onto Omaha beach, and not just in the sand. He wanted to walk the quarter to half mile, to Fox Red One. The zone on Omaha where he and his men landed 69 years ago. As we moved slowly through the sand, with his walker with wheels, Blatnik struggled with his steps, but demanded to press on. Army man to the end. He got his wish. There we stood, in the same sand that he dodged German gunfire on in 1944. Looking straight up into the high ground, and a valley, that would be their strategic target. And then, Blatnik dropped to the sand. With tears in his eyes, he praised the Lord for sparing his life, and prayed even harder that his comrades would be taken care of. He blessed the sand under his hands and knees. Read original article.

I was also recently sent this poem, “Dover Beach,” by Matthew Arnold. Although it is about the other side of the Channel, I wondered if this sense of night peace is what a German soldier might have seen before the attack. The universal sense of peace that the Earth can impose, overwhelming small human installations.

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

2 Responses to “The Last Full Measure”

  1. Angus Rockett
    | Reply

    Good luck with the project. The attack was an act of bravery that still amazes me. Given the defensive installations it is amazing that anyone survived the process.

    • ellen
      | Reply

      I think the project was supposed to be released provisionally on the 6th, but we haven’t been given permission to publicize it yet. I’ll add a link to our case study when we get cleared.

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