Saturday, June 6, 2020

The 6th of June, 1944 - D-Day


Man the landing craft!
(Source)

The climb down into the Higgins boat had been terrifying. The boat was rising up and down in the swell and even shifting away from the side of SS Empire Javelin. Private Jack Wilson forget just how seasick he was when he saw a fellow trooper mistime his jump into the Higgins boat. The man disappeared below the surface of the water before anyone could react.

The British coxswain bellowed out, "Keep moving lads, there's naught to be done for that one, he's at the bottom of the Channel by now! Let's go now, shake a leg!"

It was then that the man on the net above him stepped on his hand. He'd forgotten to keep both hands on the vertical lines in his shock at seeing the guy miss the boat and fall into the sea. It hurt like a son of a gun, but he could still flex it, so he figured he'd be okay. As the Higgins boat pulled away from the side of SS Empire Javelin he glanced over at his buddy PFC Bill Brandt. Bill looked awfully pale, but he still managed to nod at Jack and give him a quick grin. Damn, Jack thought, Bill's as scared as me!

German soldiers of the 709th Division in Normandy
(Source)

Grenadier Horst Mellanthin could barely keep his eyes open as he gazed out of the bunker looking towards the sea, hoping the fresh air off the water would wake him up. It was a hazy, drizzly day, everyone said the enemy wouldn't come for a while now. So he was looking forward to getting off duty. He didn't even care if they got anything to eat or not, he just wanted to sleep.

"Stay awake Junge, we've got another couple of hours to go." Obergrenadier Jan Kołodziej nudged him good-naturedly as he took up his position behind the gun.

"Where's Ivan?"

"Who? Oh, the Russian, he went to get some more ammo. He says he's not comfortable with what we've got. He says he feels that something's coming today."

"Ach, silly old Russian, they grow them superstitious out that way. To think I grew up hating Germans and Russians now my life seems to depend on one of each!" Jan chuckled as he lit a cigarette.

"Who did you grow up hating you stupid Pole?" Gefreiter Schmidt asked with a sneer as he strutted into the bunker.

"Give me one of those cigarettes, now!"

Jan just looked at the man, he'd known the guy for a while, didn't like him at all. He couldn't believe the lieutenant had put him in charge of their gun position. Little bastard had never been to the front before last month, because the little snot's father was some sort of Party official back home. Jan didn't care, this German he hated. The kid wasn't so bad, even the Russian, who's name was actually Vladimir, wasn't a bad sort. He worked his ass off, that was certain.

"Might I suggest that you go..."

At that moment, Horst saw something out to sea, in fact, a number of somethings. He grabbed Jan's shoulder and said, "Jan, are those ships out there? Are those ours?"

Jan shifted his attention from the Nazi corporal and looked out to sea.

"Cholera jasna!¹ Horst get a belt in, you," looking at Schmidt, "go get the Russian and tell him he was right! They're coming!"

When Schmidt looked out to sea, and saw the amazing number of ships materializing out of the morning sea mist, his mouth dropped open and he wet himself.

"Mein Gott! They will kill us all! I'm going to headquarters" And without a further word he ran out of the position.

Vladimir saw the corporal run past him as he went back to the position with four more boxes of belted 7.92 mm ammunition. He shrugged, it wasn't like the little Nazi shit was of any use, better to have him out of the way. As he entered the position, he noticed that the German kid and the Pole were manning the gun. The grenades which the idiot Schmidt had put along the vision slit were now where they belonged. Though he didn't like Poles all that much, and cared less for Germans, these two guys seemed to know their business.

When he saw the ships out to sea, all coming their way, he put the ammo boxes down and muttered in Russian, "Ага, мой внутренний инстинкт был верным!²"

The coast in sight!
(Source)

PFC Bill Brandt and Private Jack Wilson were both miserable, their landing craft was pitching, rolling, and yawing like some demented beast. They were both soaked by waves coming in over the side and Jack wasn't worried about needing his seasickness bags, the deck of their Higgins boat was awash with vomit and seawater, damned near everybody was being sick, except the Sarge and their platoon leader, a newly minted Second Lieutenant named Heintzelman from Pennsylvania. He seemed to be enjoying the ride.

"Damn it L. T. put your fool head down before some Kraut blows it off!" Sarge bellowed at the young officer.

The lieutenant just turned around and grinned at his sergeant. Now Staff Sergeant Andersen was an old hand, he'd seen action in North Africa and in Sicily. He'd never lost a platoon leader and he wasn't about to start now. Moving forward he grabbed the lieutenant by his web gear and pulled him down into the boat. As he did so, the first German machine gun rounds snapped over the top of the boat.

Jack heard a soft grunt behind him, when he turned he saw that a guy in Second Squad had taken a round through his helmet. Which didn't do him any good, the MG round had gone through the steel pot, the liner, and Bob Jackson's forehead. An inch higher and he would have had nothing more than a headache.

Then Jack and Bill both felt their Higgins boat come to ground, turning to look at each other, both nodded, then gripped their Garands tighter as the ramp came down.

Omaha Beach, Easy Red sector
(Source)

Jack had the impression of running through a red mist as he tried to get off the boat as fast as he could. Machine gun rounds had slaughtered at least ten men to his front. Coming off the ramp he stumbled and fell. As he started to panic, he felt a hand grab his collar and yank him upright.

"Run Jack, run. If we stay on this beach we're dead men. Hustle to that seawall to our front. Looks like half the platoon is down. Good Lord, this is awful."

Pretty strong language from his old buddy Bill, but move they did. Jack felt like he was in one of those dreams he used to have as a kid, where some horrible monster was chasing him and no matter how fast he pumped his legs, it felt like he was running in quicksand.

The seawall was right there, wasn't really a wall at all, just shingle heaped up above the high tide line, but the two buddies saw other G.I.s sheltering there, so it had to be somewhat safe!

(Source)

Jan felt a hand on his shoulder as a voice said, "Swing your MG to the left, nail those guys by the shingle. Poor bastards think they're safe there!"

Jan did as he was told, not realizing that their platoon sergeant had joined them in the bunker. But sure enough, it was the moment he had been waiting for, he pulled the trigger...



The men at the shingle were torn to pieces as Jan walked his rounds up the line, then back down. He quickly swung the gun to try and catch a small party of men who were trying to get below their line of fire at the base of the bluff. He just wasn't in time.


(Source)

"Move it guys, get under them where they can't depress that gun, move if you wanna live!"

Sarge had got them under the Kraut MG, Jack looked around, Bill was still with them, as was their green lieutenant, and a couple of guys Jack didn't recognize. The lieutenant had his map out and handed it to SSG Andersen, pointing with a remarkably steady hand, the lieutenant said, "I think we're about here, we're not where we're supposed to be!"

SSG Andersen just shook his head, yeah, right, a lieutenant who can read a map. As he studied what he could see of the terrain, and the curve of the coastline, he realized the lieutenant was right. Damn, now I've seen everything, the Sarge chuckled softly.

"Something funny Sergeant?" the lieutenant asked.

"Geez, L. T., what were you, a Boy Scout or something, never seen a butter bar who could read a map. No disrespect intended. Sir."

"Yes, I was an Eagle Scout, I know how to read a map. Now what's next Sarge? I can read a map, but I've never been in combat. I'm thinking we need to take out that gun."

Still grinning, the Sarge had the lieutenant, Bill, and the two strangers move to the right about ten yards, still outside the beaten zone of the Kraut MG. "Come with me Wilson!"

Jack followed his sergeant to the left a ways, then he saw what looked like a path going up. He pulled out his bayonet and starting probing the ground. The word "Mines" popped into Jack's head. Shit!

Not finding anything, Sarge moved further up, then he saw what he was looking for, the barrel of a Kraut MG, sweeping the beach and killing their guys.

"Gimme your grenades, Wilson. Now I'm gonna hold them, you pull the pins, then I'm gonna toss them into that Kraut vision slit. When I do, put your head down!"

Jack's hands were shaking as he handed the sergeant his grenades. "Easy kid, you're doing great!" the Sarge told him. Jack pulled the pins, then the Sarge waited a second, then threw the grenades, spoons flying off in mid-air, the grenades arching nicely into the bunker's vision slit.


"Scheisse!" was all Oberfeldwebel Gerhard managed to say when he realized that two grenades had just come into the bunker. Before he could say another word, both grenades detonated, one was a bit of a misfire, it made a dull bang and didn't really fragment, but it was enough to damage the MG-42's feed tray, which Horst had opened before loading a new belt.

The other went off with full force behind their platoon sergeant. Fritz Gerhard's body absorbed most of the fragments which would have killed everyone in the bunker. His body also absorbed all of the blast. He looked around, confused. Then he died.

Jan started to shake, wondering why this Widerstandsnest was so jinxed. Vladimir was groaning, he had caught a fragment in his bicep which had done a lot of damage, he was bleeding like a pig. Jan realized that the place was suddenly quiet. The blast overpressure had damaged his ears.

Horst had a couple of deep scratches on his face but seemed alright. He too could not hear a thing from the way he was pulling at his ears and shaking his head. Jan examined the gun, it was wrecked, they couldn't feed a belt through it, that's for sure. Quickly assessing things, he bound up Vladimir's wound as best as he could, he would need a surgeon to keep that arm. But now, we need to get the Hell out of here!


After the grenades had gone off, Jack had waved for the others to join them. They scrambled up as the Sarge headed further up the bluff. There, there's the back door to that damned bunker.

"Sergeant, what the Hell are you doing?" the lieutenant yelled up at SSG Andersen.

"Watch and learn, L. T., watch and learn."

Yelling at Jack and Bill to "get up here and cover my ass boys!" Andersen jumped into the trench leading to the bunker entrance. As he pulled the pin on another grenade, Jack saw a German coming down the trench towards the sergeant. Before he could say a word, PFC Bill Brandt fired two rounds from his M-1 which hit the Kraut right in the chest. He went down like a dropped sack of potatoes, a look of utter surprise on his face.

Nazi Party member Schmidt's war had ended the same day it began.

SSG Andersen released the spoon on his grenade, then tossed it into the bunker. A dull bang was all he heard.

"Damned grenades got soaked coming ashore!" As he pulled another out, he heard screaming from inside the bunker, "Don't shoot, we surrender!" He thought it odd that the Kraut spoke English with a Chicago accent.

"Come out, Hände hoch!³"

Three Krauts stumbled out of the bunker, a couple of older guys and one kid. The kid's ears were bleeding, probably from the grenade blast.

"On your knees you Nazi bastards, hands on your heads." As Andersen yelled this at the Germans he had slapped the helmets from two of the guys. One guy didn't move, he was bleeding from his upper arm. "Cover me." the sergeant yelled out.

He checked the guy on the ground, he was dead. In all of the excitement, Jan hadn't bound Vladimir's wound properly and he had bled to death.

"Sorry Fritz, but your buddy is dead."

"Stop calling me Fritz, I'm not German, I'm Polish. Only he is German," he indicated with a nod of his head in Horst's direction. "The dead guy is Vladimir, a Russian."

"What kinda crazy outfit is this?" SSG Andersen muttered. "You two, from the 29th, get these Krauts down to the beach, alive!"

Before they left, SSG Andersen asked Jan where he'd learned English.

"I learned from a girl from Chicago, visiting her grandparents in Poland before the war. Don't all of you Americans talk this way?"

"Not hardly buddy, now move along."

Jack Wilson and Bill Brandt had survived the Normandy landings. They, and their division, had much hard fighting in the future. But they were ashore, and no Kraut army would ever drive them out.

But too many men, on both sides, would not live to see June 7th.

Say a prayer for them.

Remember them.

(Source)
(Source)
(Source)




¹ "Damn it," in Polish
² Roughly "Yeah, my gut feeling was right!"
³ Hands up!

58 comments:

  1. Great story! Now if you could do similar for the forces involved in Cobra-Falaise pocket few weeks later... Hell, Jan could have ended volunteering into Polish 1st armored div.

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  2. Well done, Sarge - got my heart rate up a bit. May have to watch "The Longest Day" and "Saving Private Ryan" a bit later today. I wish those protesting in our cities would remember the sacrifices made on their behalf 76 years ago. Might help lend a little perspective.

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    1. Those self-entitled idiots don't care about the sacrifices of others, else they would not have defaced the Ghandi statue (wasn't he a Confederate General?) Or any of our war memorials, or Lincoln's memorial.

      Though the idiots of the 60's felt the same, too.

      Too many generations haven't faced total war or disease or famine so they have no example of real suffering to compare against.

      Which is sad.

      And, yes, both films are very good. And, of course, "Band of Brothers." And "Big Red 1" with Lee Marvin. Tough old bastard he was.

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    2. Those who forget history...

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    3. Today's young folks have not forgotten their history. It was never taught to them. The educational system, run by the government, has failed us completely. Children need their parents to pass on a world view which keep our Nation safe from the kind of "paid for" protests that are going on now. A knowledge of history produces patriots.
      End of rant for this reply.

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    4. And it's a hard fast pitch to Dave, Dave swings, and it's a HIT! Going, going, going, GONE! OUT OF THE PARK!!! Dave Triple-D clears the bases, clears the field, clears the stadium. The fans go wild! It's Dave for the Win!!!

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  3. Little things mean a lot. Not just the old song, but "beaten zone". Things like that make the story "right". Well done. Very well done.

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    1. And the damage to even US equipment by the extremely choppy water. They launched against Normandy in sea states that the Central Pacific campaign would have just stayed over the horizon and waited out. Well, after Tarawa, Bloody Tarawa taught them that 4' seas will flood engines and drown men.

      Wet fuses. Well, I was waiting for you to have Jan kick one of the grenades into the grenade sump, but if SSG Anderson was a grizzled vet, he would have popped the spoons, counted to two and then thrown.

      Good action.

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    2. I thought about that, decided to go with wet fuses. Otherwise, the odds were that Horst and Jan weren't going to make it out of there alive.

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  4. Born on 6 May '44, I was exactly one month old on D-Day. Safe at home with Mom, Grandparents, Aunts & Uncles, little did I know..
    God works in mysterious ways, not only were none of my relatives KIA during action in the ETO, but my wife's Father and his four brothers (2 Army, one ea Navy, Marine, and AF) all survived combat in both theaters--sort of a reverse Sullivan Brothers outcome. My wife's Mother even received an award from President Truman commemorating all fives service and safe return..

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    1. **Should have meant: "My wife's GrandMother" -yikes

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    2. That's something, all of them making it home.

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    3. And, yes, very remarkable. And very lucky. Especially if any of the 5 were Marines in the Pacific or USAAF flyers in the ETO.

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    4. @Beans/

      My Father-in-Law was in the Big Red one for the entire North African campaign, Sicilian invasion, the entire Italian campaign and thereafter the southern France fighting until VE-Day. He was in the arty true, but still.. One of his brothers was a ball-turret gunner on a B-17 in the ETO and the Marine in the 2nd MarDiv & survived the Guadacanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawan actions if you can believe that! Can't recall about the other two--all were enlisted, btw..

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    5. Got a color photo of all five together lined-up in their Class A's shortly after they enlisted! Big grin on their faces...little did/could they realize what lie ahead! (Perhaps just as well..)

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    6. Survived the Big Red One, Marines in the Pacific (especially Tarawa, Bloody Tarawa) and the USAAF in the ETO as a ball-gunnner?

      Your family, sir, is nigh unkillable by mortal man.

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    7. My uncle was on the Juneau, not so fortunate.

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    8. The ordeal of USS Juneau (CL 52) off of Guadalcanal was horrific.

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  5. I've enjoyed this series a lot Sarge. Great stuff! Had to read in snatches during my self-imposed rest breaks out on the fencing line. Pretty cool to be able to read on a phone out in the middle of the prairie. :-)

    It always comes down to real individual people.

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    1. All of history is made up by the actions of individuals, most of whom we'll never know.

      Thanks Shaun.

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    2. But a good writer makes the unknown individuals seem like real people and make us care about them, for better or worse.

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    3. If you don't care about the people in a story, you won't care about the story. One thing I've learned from reading some very good authors - Clancy, Coonts, Cornwell, Child, Flynn, and a number of others.

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  6. Dangit, Vlad... Funny a guy named Vlad bleeding out. But that's the funny thing about grenade wounds, they are so jagged and gnarly even a small one can kill.

    Glad Jan and Horst made it out of the nest. Now all they have to do is make it onto the beach and then onto a prisoner transport. Which, unfortunately, sometimes didn't happen (covered in "Band of Brothers" very well several times.) Would be interesting to see if Horst spends the rest of the war on a farm in the Mid-West or in Texas working on a ranch. And, like Pawel said, Jan could very easily be in the Polish forces in just a few days or months. Or, considering his remarkable language aptitude, be recruited by one agency or another, or just kept on as a translator for the Army (which was done back then, more often than is written about.)

    As to the Amis? Making it past the hedgehogs and other beach defenses and past the sea-wall was the hardest part. Once actually up against the defenses, weaknesses showed. They (the manned defenses) really required covering fire from other posts and nests. Remove one, via smoke or artillery or grenade, and the first line opened up.

    Just... getting to the first line of manned defenses. That was the hard part. The very hard part on Omaha Beach, considering there were a whole bunch of hardened combat vets 'vacationing' and 'resting and refitting' before being rotated back to the Eastern front. Bad luck they had to be there when we landed. As the saying goes, 'If I didn't have bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.'


    And, like the new Lt. Smart enough to know stuff, smart enough to ask his platoon sergeant. Well, except for the sticking the head up to see thingy, but that was usually cured either fatally or by watching someone else learn fatally.

    Had a guy who said Higgins boats always stank of barf and poop. Either from the first waves of the invasion, ferrying the injured back, or from being used as bum-boats and party boats in harbor transferring drunken sailors and soldiers from shore to ship. I guess no amount of paint would ever cover up that smell. Bleh.

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  7. The man standing at the Starb'd bow in the LCVP with a life jacket on and no netting on his helmet is the "Bowhook", usually a seaman 2/c or 1/c from the deck force. The rest of the crew would be the "Engineer/Sternhook", probably a Motor Machinist's mate 3/c or a striker and the "Cox'n", a senior seaman 1/c or a rated Cox'n who drove. Old Guns

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  8. This is a fine read for today! Thanks so much. When I think of the Polish guy I remember the Masterpiece Theater series "World on Fire" (or something like that).
    Sarge, you have a great way with words and your characters are believable, wonderful, and sadly real to me.
    Thanks. I'm also reading "Sand and Steel" and watching Hillsdale College's series with Dr. Hanson - "The Second World Wars" for the second time. It's a need to watch IMHO.

    https://online.hillsdale.edu/landing/the-second-world-wars?sc=MK620EM2&utm_campaign=secondworldwars&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=89051286&_hsenc=p2ANqtz--Bp_l--hTpb9JL4UfQ8Bargn3h9mhnVAw8y8X9XWC3UD8TJwDYX7HtoaVemBnPb8s_Hstoaym9jsSiSccoKlNhA3s60A&utm_content=dday_enroll_em&utm_source=housefile

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  9. Superb historical fiction, fully equal to Michael Shaara's Killer Angels. And, it don't get any better than that.

    WELL DONE, Sarge! Especially for a Chair Force guy. You got all the nautical and infantry details exactly right, enhanced by the linguistics and images to put us there, telling a story, teaching history and provoking introspection along the way.

    You deserve an extra rum ration tonight. I am sure you will include a salute to those poor bastards who died for their countries.

    Just glad our guys won.
    Thanks for your work on this series.
    John Blackshoe

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  10. "Day of Days." Patton was right that we mustn't mourn their loss but Thank God that they existed. Nice job OAFS! regards, Alemaster

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  11. I knew a Polish WWll vet. He started the war in the Polish army, got captured by the Germans and sent to fight the Russians, got captured by the Russians and ended the war fighting the Germans to Berlin. He would not talk about specific events.

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    1. Don't blame him for not wanting to talk about it.

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  12. Excellent series, Sarge. Can't wait until the book comes out. Soon? I hope.

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    1. Is that you sitting on my shoulder every time I watch a video, or do something other than work on the book. That little voice saying, "Why aren't you working on the book Sarge? It ain't gonna write itself."

      Seriously though, I'm marshaling my many scattered bits and pieces into one place, which will all be on a new page I've started called "The Fiction of The Chant." As I go through things, new ideas come to mind. It's a work in progress. I may spend the entire summer writing the book right here, in installments dontcha know? Get it before the public so they can quibble, suggest, and approve. Sort of a "Hey, let's write a book together!" We shall see. But yeah, I need to get my ass in gear.

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    2. I saw that section, and wondered when it had been started. Haven't had time to browse it recently, but will shortly.

      The Propane tank was installed yesterday. The owner and his son did it. The owner's Dad was on an ammo ship that got kamikaze'd at Okinawa. He was blown overboard with a broken arm, but was one of very few survivors. Unfortunately, he was now on the island with no way to get off. Suffice it to say, he evidently didn't talk about it much. Hard times call for hard people. Unfortunately, doesn't seem to be many of them around anymore.

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    3. They built 'em tough back in the day. Of course, it ain't the tough ones who get featured in the news these days, just the soy-boys and the malcontents. It is to weep.

      Oh yeah, Happy Birthday. 😁

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    4. Thanks, Got to Skype with Little Juvat today for an hour or so. Talk about Ground Hog day, but there's at least a bit of talk about MilAir. The problem is the local country opening up its embassy in order to issue his replacement a visa. But...it was great to see him, if not actually in person. MBD was gonna join us for dinner, but was helping a friend move and pulled a muscle in her back. You know, once you turn 30, everything starts going out. ;-)

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    5. Ah, something we know quite well!

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  13. Good stuff Sarge. Sounds like you have a hit. I like the way it's told from both sides.

    I've been to a few cemeteries in my life and it is sad how some graves are neglected. It's just the opposite in the cemeteries of our vets- the crisp white of every stone, and each are immaculate. They deserve nothing less.

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    1. It's important that we remember their sacrifice. Every day I remember them, and thank them.

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  14. By the way, here's an interesting set of infographics detailing the D-Day Landing: http://ninelinenews.com/nine-line-news/5-infographics-showing-the-jaw-dropping-achievement-of-d-day/?fbclid=IwAR0pRCnH0E209BINVdRNCsdjots7SiXIxCvcBpiH9nIscymZDdFL7bL0PRk

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    1. Very nice! I shall be using some of those in the days to come.

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  15. A great series on D-Day thus far, Sarge! I can hardly wait until you assemble all of your fiction into some semblance of a book!

    When your creative juices stop flowing, I can also hardly wait until your material on experimental planes of the past resumes.

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