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Omaha Beach 75 Years Later

“The ramps flew down spilling men, guns, and equipment on to the hell that was the shore of France. Many say now that it was a good thing most were ‘green’ troops, for many a veteran ‘froze’ that day.” 

The cool, salty water laps at the shore of Omaha Beach in calm movements. The air is light, warm, breezy, peaceful. Seventy-five years ago, the cries of the wounded carried on the breeze, mingling with volleys of bullets that penetrated the summer air. The water turned red with the blood of young men.

The contrast of 75 years is hard to fully comprehend on Omaha Beach. As I stood where American boys gave their lives, I tried to envision that day. Standing toward the channel and looking across at the endless blue water, I thought about the mighty armada that hemmed the horizon and carried our soldiers to the shores of Normandy. I thought about my friend, Elmer DeLucia, who was among them on Easy Red Sector with the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion. 

Easy Red Sector, Omaha Beach
Seventy-five years later, Elmer still remembers the names of three men he trained with, men he last saw when they arrived in France before being separated into different companies—Margarito Frausto, Lucian Hughes, and Warren Knipple. They were split into four separate companies. Elmer was assigned to A Company in the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion as a sight-man on 4.2 mortars. On June 6th, 1944, Elmer stormed Omaha Beach. The mortar men of the 81st provided the first direct fire support on Omaha that day with A and D being the first companies of the battalion to land.

Looking through the slit in the ramp one could see the smoke, wreckage, and carnage of the beach rapidly coming closer. The staccato rattling was soon recognized as machine gun bullets impacting as the craft threaded their way through the various lanes cleared by the shore engineers, but which were often lined with underwater obstacles and mines. Finally, with a last surge of power and a lurch that sent the unprepared hitting against the bulwarks, the craft grounded, and the ramps flew down spilling men, guns, and equipment on to the hell that was the shore of France. Many say now that it was a good thing most were "green" troops, for many a veteran "froze" that day. (Information taken from the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion Unit History.)

Elmer and his friends said "goodbye" and "see you later" as they were separated. He didn't know that he'd never see them again.

Elmer DeLucia

"My superior officer said, 'Elmer I have some bad news. It's about those guys you trained with.' I said, 'Which one got it?' and he said, 'Elmer, they all did.' I sat down and cried. After all our time training together in the United States, they were killed. I never got over that ... I have never forgotten their names."

Before I left for France, I visited Elmer at a senior home tucked in the mountains of Pennsylvania. A photograph of his comrade’s final resting place in the Normandy American Cemetery lays on a side table in his apartment. I promised Elmer that I would visit Margarito's grave when I went to France.

Besides Omaha Beach the Normandy American Cemetery was one of the most moving experiences for me, especially paying my respects to Margarito who died on July 30th, 1944 at the age of 24. Seeing grave after grave was a visual culmination of the sacrifice American soldiers made for liberty and freedom that we too often misuse or take for granted. All I could think was “Thank you” as I passed their graves. But I'll never be able to adequately thank them for giving up their futures, their families, and their lives to rip the world free from the hands of tyranny and evil. 

Poppies grow in the fields around Normandy, gently reminding us that freedom is not free.