The longest day...

Ok, announcements.  First things first.  Buy Ma'iitso Rises.  Its currently only $2.99 on Amazon and $2.49 through timwheatbooks.com   It would be even awesomer if you purchased a signed hardback or paperback via the easy to find links conveniently located above.  Lastly I did roll out some old music last week via the Music navigation at the top of the page.  Its free to listen, cheap to download, and heavier than the Phoenix Cluster.  What's the Phoenix Cluster you say?  Just the most massive galaxy cluster ever discovered weighing in at approximately 2.5 quadrillion times the mass of our sun which is 1.9891 x 10tothe30th kilograms.  My blog fonts don't support scientific notation so I'm just going to use real numbers from here on out, they're much more impressive anyway.  So, to recap, the mass of the sun is 1,989,100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms.  Then we take that times 2,500,000,000,000,000 which means the mass of the Phoenix Cluster is 49,727,500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Kilograms.  Let's convert that to pounds and we get 109,630,371,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lbs which would be how many tons?  548,167,903,333,333,333,333,333,333,333,333,333,333,333,333,333,333 with that little infinity line over the top of the 3, which my blog fonts don't support either.  Weak.  Anyway, that last number is in the hundreds of quindecillions and the music on the Music page is just slightly heavier than that.  Perhaps a short way into the sexdecillions.  Beware.  I told you we were going to be learning today.  On to the blog!  Or are we already there?



June 6, 1944

Ronald James McTiernan was a second generation baseball loving American from Hawthorne, Nebraska.  He breathed deeply and shifted the uncomfortable 75 pound pack that dug into his shoulder blades.  At 5'8" and 144 pounds he wasn't the largest guy around, but he wasn't the smallest either.  The gear was heavy for everyone and the fact that they'd been waterlogged the last 300 yards hadn't helped the situation.  Immediately to his left a man wretched as the bow of the Higgins boat dutifully parted the channel's blue-gray waves.  

Ron, or as the boys back home called him, Ronnie, nervously checked the clip of his M1 Garand for what seemed the thousandth time.  It was ready.  Everything was ready.  It all had to be ready.  He looked up in time to catch a nervous grin from his good friend Sweet Lou.  They had been together through basic training and all through England.  Only a couple of weeks before they had been pursuing British women and antagonizing British men.  Now, though, they stood packed in the tight metal canister with 34 other green U.S. soldiers about to be baptized in blood.  

"Listen up."  Lieutenant Coffey barked the orders as Ronnie suddenly became aware of the tremendous din that surrounded them all.  "One minute out!  Stay tight.  Stay down.  Get onshore and to the rally point to wait for my orders.  Them krauts are gonna be breathin fire on ya, but you gotta get to that rally point!  Remember your training and be safe.  God bless ya boys."

A shell exploded just to the port of the vessel and water sprayed over the men.  Ronnie shivered again, shuffled his feet, and took solace in the Lieutenant's demeanor.  The man showed nary a hint of trepidation or fear.  He seemed more confident in success than if they were going for a three mile hike with no pack.  Ronnie couldn't remember the last time he had trained without that infernal pack.

Allied Naval vessels and Air Force planes had pounded the landing zone for nearly 35 minutes with over 5000 artillery rounds and 10,000 tons of bombs.  Intel indicated that the Germans were a bit sparse in the area and the beating had certainly softened them up a bit.  Multiple explosions surrounded the Higgins, which rocked the boat side to side and soaked the men once again, yet the machine dutifully powered forward.  Ronnie looked to the dreary sky above.  Gray clouds  were dotted with the black puffs of smoke from anti-aircraft fire and he became supremely aware that other than the drone of their 225hp diesel, things had suddenly become very quiet.

"Ten seconds!"  The Lieutenant's voice somehow echoed between the sardine can walls as he turned and made his final order to the coxswain.  "Let her down.  Let's get in the war boys!"

Then it began.

Machine gun fire strafed the front of the landing craft as the door dropped for the men to exit.  Ronnie watched as the Lieutenant's head took the first wave of bullets, causing his appendages to spastically flail wildly as electrical pulses fired throughout the body below.  He winced as the men ahead were mowed down, one on top of the other.  Almost frozen in time the tracers methodically entered the front of the boat ruthlessly destroying nearly every man he had called a pal.  A wave of blood and bits of flesh immediately covered his face and he frantically removed the pieces of his friends.  What was this?  How could this really be happening?

"Ronnie!  Ronnie!"

Private Ronald James McTiernan had never been in battle before and had wondered what effect it would have on him.  He blankly stared at his best buddy who was covered in blood and had a sizable piece of brain fixed to his helmet.  Ronnie blinked and took in the gory site of his closest comrade.  They were the last two left.

"They're reloading Ronnie!  We've gotta go."

As if on cue, another German machine gun nest opened fire on the hapless boat.  Rounds slammed into the steel sides of the small craft and thumped as they penetrated the dead men stacked just behind the ramp.  Ronnie snapped from his reverie and ducked behind the pile of dead bodies, followed quickly by Lou.  His friends had sacrificed their own lives so that he could now survive.  A few seconds passed and the immediate danger seemed to go with it.  

"Over the side Lou!"  He shouted above the unyielding din that seemed to beat him to his very core.  "Our best bet is over the side!"

Ronnie exited the craft, hit the frigid water of the English Channel and immediately found himself sinking to the bottom.  They were supposed to be in knee deep surf, but that obviously wasn't the case.  He opened his eyes and blinked hard.  The salt water stung slightly and he struggled mightily to his feet, jumping toward the surface while pulling hard with his arms.  Round after round of enemy fire pierced the water and zipped past.  He was a good swimmer, but as his lungs screamed for air he hadn't made an inch of headway.  A decision had to be made, and it was simple.  The pack had to go.

Quickly, as he had done hundreds of times before, Ronnie shed the burdensome pack while holding onto the 30.06 Springfield.  He wasn't about to wade ashore unarmed.  His encumbrance relieved, the young man pushed mightily to the surface.  The relative quiet of the ocean disappeared as his head shot above the waves and he greedily gulped lungs full of air.  An explosion to his left sent red frothy water cascading over his head and he instinctively swam for the beach.

Ronnie put his feet down on the ocean floor below and began pushing his way to shore.  Bodies floated everywhere and he collected their blood stained clips along with frag grenades as he went.  Ahead lay Omaha beach.  It was a wide sandy area and McTiernan imagined it would have been a nice place to visit under other circumstances.  At each end sheer cliffs raised from the ocean, nearly perpendicular to the water, and behind the beach a 150 foot bluff gave the Germans a bird's eye view of the killing field.

"Fish in a barrel."  The words were lost to the surrounding chaos almost the instant they left his mouth. 

Ducking behind a twisted piece of metal which had been damaged from the shelling, Ronnie gathered himself for the push forward.  Men were dying everywhere he looked, though a few seemed to be grouping thirty yards ahead.  The Germans had fortified the bluff while riddling the water and beach with obstacles, making the direct assault nearly suicidal.  Ronnie turned and observed the armor floundering in the channel.  Almost none of the amphibious tanks appeared to be entering the battle.  So much for rolling cover.

"Private!"  Ronnie instinctively saluted the Lieutenant now shouting at him while pointing at a specific spot on the beach.  "Keep grabbing those frag grenades and get yourself up against that natural seawall."

Pandemonium surrounded the young man from Nebraska, but he now had a direct order and a purpose.  Determined not to let his new commander down the former standout baseball star collected frag grenades from dead men as he went, covering ground as quickly as he dared.  Then he was there.

"Ronnie!"

"Lou!"

"I thought I lost you in the channel!"

Sweet Lou's voice was music to his ears.  Somehow he had forgotten about his best friend in all the ruckus.

"What are we doing now Lou?"

A heavy explosion rained white sand down on the dozen men huddled together against the natural barrier.  Nearby another group of GI's peaked above the terrain and were greeted with heavy machine gun fire.  The Lieutenant Ronnie had taken orders from slammed his body into the powdery earth, a slight grunt expelling from his lungs.  

"Private!  We have to do something about those machine gun nests.  Do you think you can get any of those frag grenades up there?"

Ronnie smiled as he took notice of the enemy position nearly 150 feet away.

"I'll put em down their throats sir!"

"Do it."

Adrenaline surged through the young man's body.  He had never been so close to death and yet he had never felt so alive.  Ronnie stood, pulled the pin on one of the grenades and heaved it with every bit of energy he could muster.  Before he knew what was even happening he had done the same with two more.  The 1 lb 5 oz MkII grenades, known as iron pineapples for their resemblance to the tropical fruit, sailed through the air as Ronnie foolishly stood and watched.  Bullets whizzed past him from every direction and then he saw it.

Two of the grenades bounced harmlessly off the enemy's fortified position, but one found its mark, dropping neatly through the concrete bunker's window.  The subsequent explosion brought a small amount of relief from the constant rate of fire as Ronnie confidently stood and heaved six more pineapples at the nearby nests.  Three of the weapons hit their mark and a roar went up among the men at their first small victory.  

The day had just begun, but Ronnie McTiernan somehow felt like he was meant to survive.  As the Lieutenant barked orders Ron leaned heavily against the moist sand.  Absolute carnage surrounded him, but inside he felt at peace.  It was truly the longest day.


  "If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel), we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different."  President and Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower

"If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel), we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different."  President and Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower

Sixty years ago this Friday Operation Overlord and the go ahead for D-Day was ordered by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Private Ronald James McTiernan and his story is a figment of my imagination, but the situations he faced and the facts/descriptions told are based off live accounts and research.  The average American soldier was 5'8" and weighed 144 lbs.  The U.S. really dropped 10,000 tons of bombs in the 35 minutes preceding the battle.  The Higgins boat was the name of the U.S. landing craft, and there is really so much more I'd love to put in there, but my blog can't be 100k words.  Maybe I'll do a book about it someday.  Something I don't think people usually realize is that unlike many war stories the story of Omaha Beach often gets watered down with time.  Even the fictional account above is considerably less gory and terrifying than the actual event.  Omaha Beach was a natural landing area and unlike some of the other beaches the Germans had it well defended.  Men who survived the battle acknowledge that despite occasional small victories and moments of heroism, the day was anything but won.  Many played dead in the surf until nightfall, holding only their nose and mouth above the water.  Others huddled behind German obstacles and were eventually picked off by the enemy guns.  It was truly hell on earth.

 Modern day view from the east on Omaha Beach.  From here the German known as "The Beast of Omaha Beach" hunkered in machine gun nest WN62 and was constantly resupplied for hours.  He is single-handedly credited for an estimated 1000+ American deaths in the easy red and fox green sectors of the beach.

Modern day view from the east on Omaha Beach.  From here the German known as "The Beast of Omaha Beach" hunkered in machine gun nest WN62 and was constantly resupplied for hours.  He is single-handedly credited for an estimated 1000+ American deaths in the easy red and fox green sectors of the beach.

With the recent Memorial Day celebration and the upcoming 60th anniversary of D-day this just seemed like a good 1579 words to write.  World War II and the stories real men have told about it have always been of interest to me and I am genuinely grateful they were brave enough to endure the hardships they faced.  Their sacrifice will never be lost on me and when I think about the battles they waged, lost, and won, I almost always think of them the way that I told this story.  Perhaps that's why I love history so much.  It really is a living breathing record of times gone by, not just dates/times/names/places to be memorized.  Actual people with actual thoughts and feelings lived through this and that's something we shouldn't forget.  I hope the truths found in the fictional depiction above were intriguing, but also hope that maybe you learned a couple things you didn't know before.  I grabbed a lot of my facts (that I didn't know already) from The National World War II Museum.  There is a lot of good info there.  Thanks for reading everyone!


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Posted on June 4, 2014 .