Lcvp_omaha20beach_6june44 Like the rest of us, none of these soldiers wanted to die.  None of them wanted to fight a war.  In fact, these men despised war as much as any generation.  In their hearts, they wanted to be back home, in America, with their families and loved ones.  Yet, at sunrise on June 6, 1944, when they crossed the stormy English Channel headed for a French beach code-named Omaha, they certainly knew they were going to their slaughter.  Only God truly knows the anguish of their prayers. But even in this agony, when their landing crafts finally ran ashore and the ramps splashed down into the waves, these Americans did not hesitate.  They all headed straight into a violent death and left us what is now an eternal scene – dead bodies floating in the water, cries of the young dying, and dark red blood soaking the sand.

Yet amazingly, this eternal scene – this passion at Omaha – was just one drop of blood in a generation’s sacrifice, for blood was spilled the world over.  The number of casualties staggers the mind.  At Omaha Beach alone, America suffered over 8000 casualties.  By war’s end, nearly 300,000 Americans had died – white Americans, black Americans, Americans of all heritages.  France and the British Commonwealth each sustained over 500,000 deaths.  Poland suffered 120,000 battlefield deaths and, incredibly, over 5 million civilian deaths.  And then there was the USSR, where the suffering becomes unimaginable.  20 million killed, 7 million of whom were civilians.  In China, 13 million people died, 10 million of whom were civilians.  And certainly in the heart of this sacrifice was the innocent Jew – 6 million men, women and children gassed.  All told, Allied deaths reached 44 million. 

This kind of suffering is impossible to fully comprehend, but it does establish forever that this generation was one of supreme sacrifice.  Like few others, the WWII generation saw its darkest moment during the prime of youth – a time when other generations enjoy the most life has to offer – weddings, families and careers.  So, some sixty years later, when you step back and see the sacrifice endured, you can’t help but wonder if during this most tragic time, when so many good people were dying the most horrible of deaths, their silent cry was, "My God, why have you forsaken me?". 

And once this realization comes to light, one is then inevitably compelled to look at the enemy of the time.  Now as much as ever, everyone knows that this war was Hitler’s.  He was the one who brilliantly unleashed the darkest forces within man – forces that led to a cataclysm of violence ending with 11 million Axis deaths.  Yet now, over sixty years later, is it possible to say that Hitler, deep within, was a man of such pathological hatred that unconsciously he despised the future generations of Germany more than anyone else?  Because, even though these future generations have had nothing to do with the atrocities, they have had to carry its overwhelming burden – a burden that hides the cultural achievements of a people otherwise graced with astonishing genius.  Like the rest of us, they want to appreciate their heritage, but they suffer from a tremendous wound.  A leader rose to power on the despair of a nation and then committed suicide after murdering everyone in the house.  So when looking at the blood flowing in these later German generations, the WWII generation was challenged by apparently the most transcendental saying of all – love thy enemy.  And once this challenge was met, then the bloody sacrifice of World War II became complete and turned into the chalice lifted towards world reconciliation.

Capa3_gal Yet remarkably, even this accomplishment – the memory of the chalice handed-on– does not end this generation’s heroism, but instead marks the beginning of an even more profound mystery.  For some unknown reason – perhaps it is part of some divinely inspired drama – their sacrifice over the past sixty years was not only forgotten, their achievements were scorned.  Despite the best intentions of the vast majority of those of the 1960’s culture, a new kind of poisonous cynicism was born during the Woodstock era.  At first, this cynicism was largely unseen and unnoticed. But at some time – perhaps it was during the cocaine inspired 70’s and 80’s – an aggressive minority of cynics overtook the rest of this generation who were also sacrificing themselves to better society.  These very few cultural cynics ushered in the era of the antihero and prided themselves on what they, incredibly, still proclaim as their banner cry – "taboo-breaking".  To these few, "out with the old, in with the new" became a ruse to slay the cultural achievements of their fathers and enjoy a short-lived benefit.  But in the long run, a society based on the antihero leads to a devastating form of cultural insanity.  In 200 years, when anthropologists are sifting through the artifacts of pop culture, they may point to two works that best illustrate the pathos of these cultural cynics – Oliver Stone’s movie, Natural Born Killers, and the 1964 New York Times headline that "God is Dead."

Yet, just when you think the cynics have carried not only the day but also the generation, two voices from this era emerge that miraculously resurrect the forgotten heroism of the WWII generation.  "Miraculously" is the word because both of these voices come from deep within two institutions that, at one time, did much to belittle the values of the WWII generation – the national media and American entertainment.  One voice is that of Tom Brokaw of NBC who compiled accounts of the WWII generation in a book entitled, The Greatest Generation.  The other, of course, is Steven Spielberg who in all his brilliance created the film, Saving Private Ryan.  Perhaps both men have seen the inherent danger of an antihero culture gone too far. In any event, both are heroes themselves because through their works, the sacrifice of the WWII generation has come back to life after being pronounced as dead and then completely forgotten.

Dday35 So, for those of you who greatly appreciate the heroism of the WWII generation, read The Greatest Generation and watch Saving Private Ryan. And for those of you who have taken it a step further and find yourself wondering about the ultimate destiny of these decent men and women, try the following.  Get up early one morning and as you watch the sun rise, ask yourself, "What happened to the American Soldier who died in agony at Omaha?"  And as the first rays of light break the grip of darkness, hear the answer of Christ saying, "I am one with the Father." 

Sidney O. Smith III dedicates this essay to the WWII generation.

(Originally written around 1998)

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14 Responses to “SUNRISE AT OMAHA” Sidney O. Smith III

  1. Babak Makkinejad says:

    2 Poems by Konstantin Simonov:
    to Alexei Surkov
    Remember, Alyosha, the roads of Smolenshchina,
    Remember the rain and the mud and the pain,
    The women, exhausted, who brought milk in pitchers,
    And clasped them like babies at breast, from the rain.
    The whispering words as we passed them – “God bless you!”
    The eyes where they secretly wiped away tears!
    And how they all promised they would be “soldatki”,
    – The words of old Russia from earlier years.
    The road disappearing past hills in the distance,
    Its length that we measured with tears on the run.
    And villages, villages, churches and churchyards,
    As if all of Russia were gathered in one.
    It seemed that in each Russian village we passed through,
    The hands of our ancestors under the sod
    Were making the sign of the cross and protecting
    Their children, no longer believers in god.
    You know, I believe that the Russia we fight for
    Is not the dull town where I lived at a loss
    But those country tracks that our ancestors followed,
    The graves where they lie, with the old Russian cross.
    I feel that for me, it was countryside Russia
    That first made me feel I must truly belong
    To the tedious miles between village and village,
    The tears of the widow, the women’s sad song.
    Remember, Alyosha, the hut at Borisov,
    The cry of the girl as she mourned, and the sight
    Of the grey-haired old woman, her velveteen jacket,
    The old man, as if dressed for death, all in white!
    And what could we say? With what words could we comfort them?
    Yet seeming to gather the sense of our lack,
    The old woman said “We shall wait for you, darlings!
    Wherever you get to, we know you’ll come back!”
    “We know you’ll come back!” said the fields and the pastures,
    “We know you’ll come back!” said the woods and the hill.
    Alyosha, at nights I can hear them behind me.
    Their voices are following after me still.
    By old Russian practice, mere fire and destruction
    Are all we abandon behind us in war.
    We see alongside us the deaths of our comrades,
    By old Russian practice, the breast to the fore.
    Alyosha, till now we’ve been spared by the bullets.
    But when (for the third time) my life seemed to end,
    I yet still felt proud of the dearest of countries,
    The great bitter land I was born to defend.
    I’m proud that the mother who bore us was Russian;
    That Russian I’ll fall as my ancestors fell;
    That going to battle, the woman was Russian,
    Who kissed me three times in a Russian farewell!
    July 1941
    to Valentina Serova
    Wait for me, and I’ll come back!
    Wait with all you’ve got!
    Wait, when dreary yellow rains
    Tell you, you should not.
    Wait when snow is falling fast,
    Wait when summer’s hot,
    Wait when yesterdays are past,
    Others are forgot.
    Wait, when from that far-off place,
    Letters don’t arrive.
    Wait, when those with whom you wait
    Doubt if I’m alive.
    Wait for me, and I’ll come back!
    Wait in patience yet
    When they tell you off by heart
    That you should forget.
    Even when my dearest ones
    Say that I am lost,
    Even when my friends give up,
    Sit and count the cost,
    Drink a glass of bitter wine
    To the fallen friend –
    Wait! And do not drink with them!
    Wait until the end!
    Wait for me and I’ll come back,
    Dodging every fate!
    “What a bit of luck!” they’ll say,
    Those that would not wait.
    They will never understand
    How amidst the strife,
    By your waiting for me, dear,
    You had saved my life.
    Only you and I will know
    How you got me through.
    Simply – you knew how to wait –
    No one else but you.

  2. Mike says:

    “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Those words uttered by Christ as he suffered an agonising death at Golgotha make up the opening line of Psalm 22, and souind like a cry of desolation and despair, the utter loss fo any sense of the presence of any divine reality. But in truth, the whole psalm , though it commences in desolation, ends in hope and confidence in the reality of a spiritual and physical salvation, the faith in of a God of justice and mercy:
    “I call, all day my God
    But you never answer.
    All night long I call and cannot rest……
    …here am I, more worm than man,
    Scorn of Mankind
    Jest of the people
    All who see me jeer at me
    They toss their heads and sneer….
    A pack of wolves surrounds me
    A horde of evil men closes me in
    They tie me hand and foot
    And leave me lying in the dust of death….
    …They divide ny garments among them
    And cast lots for my clothes
    Do not stand aside, Yahweh,
    Oh my strength, come quickly to my help
    Rescue my soul from the sword….
    Save me from the lion’s mouth
    My poor soul from the wild bull’s horns
    Then I shall proclaim your name to my brothers
    Praise you in the congregation.
    Glorify him! oh race of Jacob
    Revere him! oh sons of Israel
    For he has not despised the poor man in his poverty
    Nor hidden his face from him
    But has answered when he has called….
    The poor will receive as much as they want to eat…
    Those who seek Yahweh will paise him…
    Long life shall be for their hearts…
    The whole earth will remember and come back to Yahweh
    All the families of the nations will bow down before him
    Yahweh rules, the king of the nations
    Before him all the prosperous of the earth shall bow down before him….
    My soul will live for him,
    My children will serve him
    Men will proclaim his name to the generations to come
    And his righteousness to a people yet unborn.

  3. Military Historian Sir John Keegan’s book on WWII accurately describes it as the largest event so far in the history of the human race. I think he is right. My former father-in-law Edward F. Haley, II, was the first person drafted in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was a graduate of the Augusta Military Academy and so was almost immediately made a non-commissioned officer at Ft. Bragg. Later married there when wedding ceremonies were being conducted at 15 minute intervals around the clock, he and and wife’s small apartment had access through a bathroom. His most memorable tale of that time however (and he did not particpate in D-DAy being discharged medically before that event) was the friendship with a DANA WHIPPLE who he described as the finest man he had ever known or would know and he himself was a fine man who knew many. DANA died on D-DAy along with many others from central Virginia. The National D-Day Memorial at the City of Bedford, Virginia is a striking monument to that day and the sacrifice of the small town of Bedford which suffered the greatest casualty total of any small town in the US on that day. Clearly a suitable location in the States for a memorial. But no American can walk the cemetaries in France and not feel awed at the great and total sacrifice of so many in WWI and WWII. Simply awe-inspring and very intense even for someone like me born 8 months and 27 days after Pearl Harbor. Little did I know when I walked around Omaha Beach in the summer of 1964 that I would also be drafted in September 1967.

  4. FB Ali says:

    I write this not to take away anything from Sidney O. Smith III’s moving tribute to the World War II generation. He does their courage and their sacrifices full justice. Yet, the very eloquence of his praise may do an injustice to an earlier generation by obscuring their courage and sacrifices, every bit as heroic as those he praises. This is the generation that fought in World War I.
    This earlier Great War was kinder on civilians (both its area of combat and the indiscriminate destructiveness of its weapons were limited, and the “laws of war” still had some meaning). But, for the soldiers who fought in it, it was a horror beyond imagination, far worse than what those who fought in the second war went through. Yes, the men who waded ashore at Omaha (and the other beaches) showed great courage, but the soldiers of the earlier war had to show this unbelievable bravery month after month as they rose out of their trenches and walked into the unavoidable slaughter in no man’s land. (For some it probably came as a welcome release from the hellish life in the trenches).
    Memorial Day in the US (and memorial days in other countries) mark the remembrance of those who fought and fell in all earlier wars. Each one of them was its own particular hell, and those who were called upon to face them displayed their own valour and fortitude, and underwent their own torments. None rises above others, all are equal.

  5. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    Babak et al.
    Thank you very much for the comments, including the poems. I need to spend more time with them and hope to do so the next couple of days.
    Mike — thank you for the insight re: Psalm 22. I don’t have much in the way of religious talent but I respect those who do.
    FB Ali — You mention WWI. By complete happenstance, I grabbed a book to read while on a recent trip the past few days. And the book? All Quiet on the Western Front.
    Also, awhile back, a contributor who goes by the name of “TomB” mentioned the work of one of the WWI poets, Siegfried Sasson, and I must say, Sasson’s work is extraordinary.
    But William R. Cumming described the very people I had in mind when I wrote this essay around ten or twelve years ago. It was intended for the WWII generation in my hometown. Since my parents were of that era, I was raised by men and women who experienced firsthand WWII. Very decent people. And Spielberg’s film opened my eyes as to what they experienced when they were around 20 years old, if not younger.
    The essay has a religious inflection because the vast majority of the WWII generation I knew were church-goers, primarily of the Episcopalian-Methodist variety. While I admittedly lead a secular life, I simply wanted to try to see the experience through their eyes the best I could, out of respect if nothing else.
    The essay made the rounds at the morning coffee clubs in my hometown where the WWII crowd would meet. They seemed to appreciate it. Many have since died.
    Awhile back, a contributor by the name of “alvnal” made a comment at SST that seemed to indicate he knew much about the WWII era and perhaps had experienced it firsthand. So I started wondering about the WWII vets who read SST and decided to send the essay to Col. Lang. I appreciate greatly Col. Lang’s decision to post it.
    I am keenly aware that there are different interpretations about WWII but I tend to follow Andrew Bacevich’s lead at to the proper approach. Also, while I am not a military person, I speculate that the WWII generation understood conventional warfare so superbly that they may have developed a blind spot for the nuances of unconventional warfare. This may have caused problems, but generational differences have been around as long as man. Plus, at some point, I believe it’s good to put all that aside and just tell ‘em thanks. This may imply a belief in the idea of change (or as Jefferson said, “revolution”) within tradition but not the destruction of tradition itself. Big difference.
    Of course, if anyone of the WWII generation does read this essay, I hope they will publicly support the findings of the 2007 NIE. I am always looking for a trade off, I reckon!
    Again, many thanks for the comments.

  6. JJackson says:

    Sidney I am sorry to be a voice of dissent and have no problem any of the section relating to the heroism of the WWII generation. I have a great respect for the ‘peace & love’ ideal of the Woodstock generation and abhor the Wall Street (the movie) generations ideals. My problems are with the religious – and specifically Christian – aspects of the post which jar against the non-denomination nature of those who sacrificed their lives. A look at your casualty figures show most of those who died were not Christian and may well have been agnostic or even atheists. I think Saving Private Ryan was overly jingoistic and ‘Hollywood’ and Shindler’s List (while both have a fair amount of artistic licence) might be a better film to watch to see why those who gave full measure did so in a just cause. I wish that history could be so kind when it looks back on those giving their lives today. While they may be equally heroic as they fight and die I fear that future historian will not view the causes that they are fighting for in as clear black and white.

  7. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    You make very valid points.
    I want to emphasize that the essay was written originally for those of the WWII generation that I have known first hand. Decent folks and church goers. So I wanted to use images that they could relate to. The essay was for them, not me, although I must say that it was a very good experience for me as well.
    As truth in advertising, I need to point out that I have no religious talent and lead a (very) secular life but I do respect those with genuine religious insights.
    The psychology of religion probably intrigues me as much as religion itself. The etymology of religion, as you may already know, means “linking back”, so I cannot help but wonder if those very few with religious talents have some type of relationship with the unconscious that can lead to insights and analytical assumptions that may help us today. I know that is a dicey proposition when seen from your pov. Very understandable.
    But one example to illustrate: I believe it is reasonable to inquire if Rabbi Teitelbaum has greater insights than that of Leo Strauss, especially when it comes to the unconscious dynamic of anti-Semitism. And the assumptions that arise out of Rabbi Teitelbaum’s worldview may help in intel analysis, at least as much as, if not more, than those of Leo Strauss and the Straussians. So we may ignore the wisdom of Rabbi Teitelbaum at great peril.
    This leads to a second point. I wanted to stress in the essay an idea that may or may not be correct. There is a certain type of creativity that will lead to chaos and it is one that seeks the destruction of all traditional symbols.
    I think this idea has relevance today. Shulsky’s and Schmitt’s paper titled “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence” arguably is based upon the type of creativity that I attempted to describe in the essay. They intended to destroy the tradition of Sherman Kent and all it symbolized.
    As Habakkuk has pointed out in his essay, the S and S paper represented a very sharp break with the Anglo-American tradition of intel analysis and may even echo the approach of Hitler and Stalin. So the concept of “creative destruction” is a very dangerous one, and one that increases odds that world chaos will ensue, if left unchecked.
    I always return to the time that Luti called General Zinni “a traitor”. That episode answers much and, in this regard, may represent the two types of creativity that I am trying to delineate, albeit not very well. General Zinni represents change within tradition. Luti, at least in this instance, wanted to destroy this tradition and he attempted to do so by becoming a false accuser. Moreover, it looks like Luti’s underlying creativity is that which tends towards chaos after perhaps a brief experience of “shock and awe”.
    But, hopefully, the days of the neoconservatives are waning. Dangerous bunch of folks though. And I just do not believe their tradition is the one of the USM that went through Vietnam, at least as I understand it, And of course the tradition of the USM also went through Omaha.
    Nonetheless you make a great point: the creativity of the neoconservatives also is not the part of the 60’s culture that you appear to admire.

  8. matt says:

    Where can I learn more about “Rabbi Teitelbaum”? I have never heard the name before …

  9. JJackson says:

    Sidney thanks for taking the time to reply. Due to a slight lag between reading the original, replying and having the post appear I had not seen the background to the original essay in your comment (despite its preceding mine) and the religious ‘jump’ makes more sense once you understand the intended audience.
    My comments were

  10. martin Knutsen says:

    My grandfather served in the War, as its still called here in Norway. Scotland, logistics for Linge Kompani. Since we were occupied for so long, everyone here have stories, some wich they deny. I am an active antifascist myself, and travel to demonstrations etc. all over Scandinavia, etc. The sight of 300 nazis in uniform marching is one of the few public sights that lend me homicidal thougts, I must admit. I have met people who served in Auschwitz.
    Nazism genuine evil is a very interesting point, how it is the only ideology wich clearly ennobles the exploitation and extermination of the weak. I find some strains of it in Ayn Rand and her objectivism, as well as in Satanism both modern and old.

  11. martin Knutsen says:

    ANd a irreverent question: Why did they not have shields of light wood to cover the top with sloping sides? I wonder how many casualties were from shrapnel from the neigbour exploding in such a tight landing? Sorry for breaking the mood, sir.

  12. Sidney O. Smith III says:

    I am referring to Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979) the “Grande Rabbe” of Satmar — a Hasidic dynasty of about 150,000 strong who primarily live in the US.
    Rabbi Teitelbaum appears to have had an extraordinary understanding of the unconscious dynamic of anti-Semitism. I write “extraordinary” because it runs counter to the assumptions that arise out of the Uris worldview — the one in which I was raised. I write “unconscious” because no one seems to realize what we are doing, assuming Rabbi Teitelbaum is correct.
    I have not yet drawn any definitive conclusions as to whether or not he is correct. But, increasingly, Jewish American writers who identify themselves as “progressive” appear to rely on some of his analytical assumptions that arise out of his worldview. It is a fascinating ideological intersection because progressive Jewish Americans typically have assimilated into America culture. Satmar Jews have not, as is their right in the US.
    I don’t know if the reliance by these Jewish American writers is intentional or unintentional but a couple of examples. Tony Karon’s essay on the 60th anniversary of Israel appears to rely on many of the assumptions of Rabbi Teitelbaum. It is as if Rabbi Teitelbaum was handing Karon messages from Paradise. And then there is Philip Weiss. He just wrote at his blog: “O look on these works and despair: What has Zionism done to American Jewry?” I cannot help but believe that Rabbi Teitelbaum would shake his head in agreement with Weiss’ words.
    If you have immersed yourself in the Uris worldview, then Rabbi Teitelbaum’s insights come as a shock. It is as if Rabbi Teitelbaum takes all those assumptions in which you were raised and breaks them over his knee like twigs. Then he leads you into a different world. It is a strange experience A differently clarity emerges but expect pain because, if Rabbi Teitelbaum is correct, then madness is engulfing the world.
    Is Rabbi Teitelbaum correct? I probably should disclose that, at least right now, I adhere to one of two ideas for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a two state solution along the lines of the the 67 borders (and along the lines of Martin Van Creveld’s book — Defending Israel — as well as Col. Lang’s idea of the “hudna”) or, alternatively, a one state solution (probably along the lines of Buber’s views). Quite frankly, I see neither happening and this leads me back to Rabbi Teitelbaum.
    Presently, I am trying to determine what lawyers would describe as the “credibility” of Rabbi Teitelbaum as a witness for the Jewish people as well as America. So I ask basic questions. Who has a greater love for the Jewish people, Rabbi Teitelbaum or Pastor Hagee? Who better represents the Judaic soul, Rabbi Teitelbaum or Normon Podheretz? Who has an issue of dual loyalty…Rabbi Teitelbaum or AIPAC? Who loves the American experience more, Rabbi Teitelbaum or Charles Krauthammer?
    And there is one last point and it relates to an insight made by JJackson. I am fascinated with the psychology of religion, although I have no expertise. But years ago, I read works by both Freud and Jung. Jung seemed to argue that “ritual” affects the unconscious. (I believe the title of one of Jung’s essay went something like: “The Transformational Symbolism of Mass”.)
    Best I can tell no one has lived Jewish ritual more than Rabbi Teitelbaum. He was the incarnation of Jewish ritual. So, assuming Jung made a point, Rabbi Teitelbaum may have had a greater ability to understand the workings of the unconscious, especially in regard to anti-Semitism.
    Secular Jews like to brush Rabbi Teitelbaum like some kind of old fashioned relic and fool, but they may do so at the greatest of perils. It looks like to me he sacrificed his ego for the Judaic soul.
    Should US intel analysis rely on analytical assumptions that arise from Rabbi Teitelbaum’s worldview? I don’t yet know but if Rabbi Teitelbaum is correct, then the psychology of Shulsky and Schmitt is very disturbing. It may even fall into a category that is enormously destructive (for more info, see Rothko). If Teitelbaum was correct, then he was a spiritual giant and S and S were 4 years old. History will tell, I reckon.
    But each must decide on his or her own.

  13. Dave Jackson says:

    To go and see Omaha in person – to remember what happened there. There are so many areas along the coast that are memorable. I’ve found in my travels that asking the locals where they go – or where the tourists go (normally two different places), you’ll find the very best options. Hasn’t failed me yet. Kind regards, Dave Jackson Three Best Beaches

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