The Veteran’s Beach

By Logan Metesh

I stood in the sand and turned 180-degrees to my left, pulling my gaze from the English Channel to the distant flag fluttering in the breeze 30 meters above the heights at Omaha Beach in Normandy.

I’ve read books and watched documentaries about the tremendous challenges and literal uphill battles that the Allies faced on June 6, 1944, but it was an entirely different thing altogether to stand in that spot and look up at those formidable heights. I had just made my way down from the Normandy American Cemetery, where I followed a well-marked trail past the monuments to the Big Red One, the 31st Canadian Minesweeping Flotilla, and the 5th Engineer Special Brigade, as well as the remains of Widerstandsnest 62, or if you speak Freedom and not Kraut, Resistance Nest 62.

As I stood there in 2019, marveling at the seeming impossibility of the task presented to the soldiers 75 years before, I whispered to myself, “I can’t even imagine how these guys did it.”

“I used to wonder, too,” chimed in my friend, whom I didn’t know overheard me. I was there as his guest, and Mark was still decompressing from running all of the security logistics for the American Battle Monuments Commission’s 75th anniversary events.

“What do you mean, ‘used to’?” I asked.

“On the day of the 75th anniversary, we had a bunch of vets here who were taking the same route you just took—from the cemetery, down the path, to the beach. Everything was cordoned off to keep people safe and heading in the right direction.”

Mark continued, “all of the sudden, there’s a commotion beyond the barrier. It’s a bent-over vet with a cane in each hand and his handler walking briskly after him toward the edge of the heights.”

I involuntarily raised my eyebrows in surprise, imagining the security and safety nightmare my friend was describing.

“‘Sir,’ I said. ‘The path is over here,’” Mark motioned to the right as he reenacted the encounter.

The old man ignored him and kept walking. Mark quickened his pace and caught up with the two men, repeating his directions.

“This is where I came up,” the vet said calmly to Mark.

My friend and the handler exchanged a glance.

“And this is where I’m going back down,” he concluded.

Now it was my friend’s turn for his eyebrows to go up.

“Sir, the heights aren’t safe. There’s no path there and it’s very steep,” he pleaded, no doubt envisioning the headline: “Omaha Beach Claims Another Life 75 Years Later.”

“This is where I came up, and this is where I’m going back down,” the vet repeated.

“So what did you do?” I asked, knowing that the envisioned headline never came to fruition.

“Here was this old man,” Mark said, “who had come all this way, after all these years, back to his beach. His handler agreed to go with him and hold onto him.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.

“Nope. This was his beach, and there was no way that I was going to tell him what to do on his beach.”

As hard as it was to believe, I completely understood.

“So, I watched the handler and the man, a cane in each hand, make their way toward the edge and out of view,” Mark continued.

“Later in the day, I happened to be in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I was right there when the old man came back up the heights in the same spot he went down.”

I was incredulous. Not only did this man of about 90 climb down the heights, he also climbed back up them!

“How was it?” Mark asked the old veteran when he reached the top.

“I remember it being a lot harder 75 years ago,” he replied as matter-of-factly as possible, a bit winded and clutching his two canes.

From the FE Films Archive

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