The 6th of June 1944 – Utah Beach, Normandy, France

(found in a dusty trunk in a dusty attic)

Dearest Linda,

It was a mad dash, a frightening run through a hailstorm of bullets. It was a mad dash to safety, but there was no safety.

This morning – before the sun came up – we crawled over the sides of our big transports and down a cargo net into our DUKW boats. We huddled together inside those for a bit while we sloshed towards the beach. Mortars whistled overhead and splashed into the water. Big geysers, boiling hot, would erupt right next to us when the shells exploded.

When we came close enough, bullets from machine guns pinged off the forward hull of our DUKW. That was our only shield, at least it was until we got close enough to the beach, and they opened it. Behind me, the driver screamed for us to get off the boat and onto the beach. In front of me, the unlucky pair placed at the head of the compartment screamed too. Then they fell to the metal floor, writhing in the waves that splashed on board.

I don’t remember it, but I ran. Off the boat and onto the beach, I ran. Past blurry figures dropping to the sand and yelling for home and momma, I ran. Past the commanders huddled behind anti-tank obstacles, past the urges and the orders and the promises of a safety yet unseen, I ran.

I ran and ran, until the shouting died down, until I found myself amongst a friendly unit handing out cigarettes and cups of bitter coffee, until the sun began to set. I must have killed someone. I know, but I don’t remember. I must have killed a bunch.

And just before I wrote this to you, to let you know that I am safe, but without safety, to make – once again – the empty promise that I will come home to you, I turned to look at the beach behind me.

Bodies, Linda, it was almost all bodies. Bodies lying face down in the sand, bodies bloated and waterlogged on the edge of the shore, bodies bobbing up and down in the current of the sea. It was all just bodies, bodies I will never forget, bodies of men who probably once said exactly what I will soon tell you, with as much conviction and as little proof.

And then, above the bodies, beyond the blood-soaked beach, I saw the sun, pink and hanging in the sky, floating slowly beneath the horizon until a new day calls it once again to do its duty.

I will see you soon, my dearest Linda.

With love forever,

James

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