"There are only two types of men who will stay on this beach: the dead ones and the ones who will soon be dead. So get up off your lazy butts." -From the movie "The Longest Day"
"I may not get the Purple Heart for being wounded but if they give them out for being scared as hell I certainly rate one." -A letter from one of the men at the front
A large, twisted piece of metal had never been a better friend. It sheltered a tired, cold man from a frightening rain of bullets. This chunk of metal seemed to huddle, afraid for itself as well as the one it protected. The one protected felt just as alone, sheltering his radio equipment and forlornly looking out at the piles of bodies that hadn't found a friend. He shivered as he noticed some had found refuge among the dead ones, using their limp carcasses as walls behind which they could reload.
Shaking once again, he found no comfort in the thought being alive when this slaughter was over. He would only remember the way his friends' faces looked when they were tired or bloody or dead. He'd never remember their smiles or how young they were - just that they were shadows of a horrible past. He could see a high school class ring winking cheerily on a dead man's finger. A boy, forced to forget senior prom by the terror of the faces around him, his own face now in the sand. His back was no longer rising with breath. His life had been snatched by a piece of metal akin to the essence of this man's protection.
And the protected one felt guilt claw at his stomach, throwing him into turmoil. He was only 20, had only just met the girl he loved more than any other. Was he any better than the boys whose blood was dyeing the ocean red?
With a jaw-clenching scream, another rocket soared through the air and sent sand spraying in all directions that would normally force all to cover their heads from the stinging particles. But nobody flinched, instead opting to let the sand scorch their faces. Pain had long ago become routine. Often times, physical pain kept your mind from pondering too long upon the dead faces; physical pain kept you immune to the real pain of knowing those faces were the ones playing poker with you last night. These men welcomed pain and the relief it brought. For a moment, they could concentrate not upon the specks in the distance who sent death down in waves, but upon their prickling skin. Instead of contemplating on their damp clothing and jamming guns, they could think of their wind burned countenances.
The protected one looked down upon the battlefield, and felt as though his insides were ice. How could he have stiffened himself to so many dead bodies? He felt his mind retching, but his body was hard against these thoughts. Since when had he become so cold? If only he was home in bed, just warm in bed, he would be happy! Maybe if he closed his eyes for a moment it would all disappear... He searched his memory for the taste of his mother's pancakes, for the feel of his girlfriend's hand. It was a peaceful fantasy for but a moment before it was shattered by the reality close at hand. He would die, he would never go home. In the frantic panic that suddenly seized him, the protected one ran from his hiding place, clutching his radio to his chest.
As bullets whizzed past his head, one caught him on the shoulder, and he fell to the ground with a gasp of pain. What folly! Men would kill everything and all that would be left would be a desolate godforsaken spit of land. For how could the world remain the same after so many had suffered and hated for so long? Too many good friends had died. Though in his heart of hearts he knew if he survived he would still watch his favorite television program, and his mother would still make him pork chops for Christmas. If his life didn't change, then why would others? What would stop them from grappling with each other? What would stop the boorish need of humans to hurt other humans?
The bodies, he answered in his own mind. Too many sons returned home in boxes would hold back the deluge of hate. Only compassion could stop the cycle, but he no longer felt compassion. He only felt emptiness, looking into the glassy eyes of his dead comrades. They were pathetic in their final sleep. The thought occurred to him again as he gently shut the eyelids of a friend: Was he better than them? Pausing for a moment to find the clear skies far in the distance, he turned over the question in his mind. Yes, in a sense he was better than those boys because, for another moment, he held life beneath his breast and they did not.
A/N: For more the real stories of those who were present on that fateful day, visit (letter excerpts thanks to PBS)