Suffice it say that I was hooked on history from that moment forward. Just as the program’s title purports to do for its listener, I found myself transported in my mind right back to the very battle itself. All around me, I could sense the sights and sounds of the mêlée. It was a truly immersive and transformational experience.
As a 7th grader, of course, I dared not let on to my classmates that I actually liked history. So, I coolly contained myself. But I never forgot the experience.
These days, I am unapologetic about my love for history. After all, as George Santayana famously quipped, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it!” These days, too, being semi-retired, and with more time on my hands, I am committed to pursuing many of my personal hobbies in a more thorough manner. Not surprisingly, this extends to learning more and more history as well.
And yet, while I love to read history, I have come to see that few historical summaries are as compelling as those instances of history that are somehow captured live and preserved for posterity. Whether it is the events of 911 or the assassination of JFK, most all of us are familiar with the power of history being captured.
But when we begin to go back in time, however, such things become increasingly rare. One such example is another invasion across the English Channel over 850 years after the one referenced above. Only this time, it was not the French invading England, but the Allies invading Axis occupied Europe. The year was 1944; and the invasion began in the sixth hour of the sixth day of the sixth month of that eventful year.
Hollywood has attempted to recreate the carnage of “D-Day.” Movies such as Saving Private Ryan present us with a fairly detailed and accurate portrayal of the events of this eventful day. Here we observe brave young Allied soldiers resolutely storming Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” on “Omaha Beach” by throwing themselves doggedly into the teeth of the Axis powers’ withering machine gun fire, relentless mortar shelling, and seemingly endless placement of hidden mines.
A famous general from an earlier American war once said, “War means fighting, and fighting means killing.” D-Day proved this beyond dispute. And one simply cannot watch Steven Spielberg's masterful depiction of the heroic events of that historic day without experiencing a visceral reaction deep within his or her soul.
Still, very few incidents in those terrible moments in history were actually recorded live. Some that were include the still pictures captured by Life magazine’s Robert Capa, who was the only still photographer to wade ashore with the c. 34,250 troops who landed at “Omaha Beach”. His pictures are quite powerful, speaking volumes to this very day to all who view them about the terror of those immortal minutes.
A quarter of an hour earlier and some three miles offshore, another individual was busy recording the events of that memorable morning. Only this time, George Hicks was not recording the events on film but on a newfangled “Recordgraph” audio recording machine. Later that day, upon his return to England, he made his 13 minute, 33 second audio recording available to the world’s media.
Almost certainly, one of the planes that Hicks describes seeing fly over and plaster the German defenses with bombs was a B-26 Marauder from the 9th Air Force. Ensconced within that plane was yet another reporter, Richard Hottelet, whose first hand audio account, broadcast later that morning, is also riveting. His plane made its bombing run a mere 7 minutes before the fateful moment when the Allied forces waded ashore at H-Hour.
This had all been preceded earlier by hundreds of low level bombing sorties against German beach emplacements in the previous few hours. Altogether, some 11,000 total aircraft, 4000 to 5000 ships, and nearly 190,000 allied personnel took place in the massive invasion.
I encourage everyone reading this to view the pictures and listen to the tapes via the links I have included below. Anyone choosing to do so will surely be moved by the power of history as it comes alive before his or her very eyes and ears. Mind you, if you do, that this is not Hollywood. This is actual history, recorded for posterity exactly as it was happening!
For me, it is all but impossible to see and hear these things without being reminded of the awesome sacrifices undertaken by others on my behalf. My freedom this day is due to the dedication of such individuals, many of whom gave what Abraham Lincoln termed the “last full measure” of devotion to that cause of defeating fascism and insuring the future for freedom-loving people the world over.
By now, my regular readers may be beginning to wonder what the preachable point of this short blog post is. I would answer by pointing out that, as grateful as I and so many more are for their bravery in being there and capturing this great historical moment, both the photographer and the reporter were still only recording history. By comparison, all of those they were capturing on film and tape were busy actually making history – history that was to have an immediate and lasting effect upon untold hundreds of millions of people, including you and me!
Now, do not get me wrong. It definitely took courage to be there and capture the cacophony of images and sounds of that battle. But if that took courage, then how much more was needed from those who went ashore before the reporters and faced the Nazi meat-grinder head-on!
As a lover of history, I am personally convicted by this thought. While I love to study history, especially firsthand accounts, I know that life is arguably better spent making history than merely recording history. Ultimately, you see, someone must first act for the good of his or her fellow human beings before someone else can then speak of what he or she acted and did!
Such a principle surely has application to daily life. Most people rightly care far more about we have actually done on their behalf than what we have had to say or show to them. Maybe this was at least part of what the Apostle James had in mind (in his New Testament Letter, chapter 1, verse 22) when he challenged his fellow believers to be doers of the word and not just hearers only. In other words, taking note of a matter and discussing it is one thing; but living it out is another matter altogether!
Given this admonition, yes, may we be faithful to recount the truth of the Gospel. But far more importantly, may we be faithful to act out the truth of the Gospel – especially as it impacts the lives of others around us. After all, what all we do very often shouts our message out far louder and far clearer than what all we say.
D DAY STILL PHOTOGRAPHS:
D DAY LIVE AUDIO RECORDING:
NOTE: Providentially, the entire 24 hour broadcast days of both CBS and NBC radio networks for June 6, 1944 have been preserved for posterity and can be accessed here:
BATTLE OF HASTINGS ON YOU ARE THERE:
https://archive.org/details/You_Are_There_OTR/You_Are_There_480606_ep33_The_Battle_of_Hastings.mp3. Episode 33.