Tuesday, 04 October 2022

F Fic, Non-fic

How Did I Get Here?

how did I get here by David White

by David White

I steered one of the many LCA boats headed toward Point du Hoc. The yanks in my boat were all shaking with fear. One green private puked onto the floor around the other soldiers' feet. Then the whistles. Patches of ocean exploded as artillery shells missed our souls. The spray of water felt good on my neck. Numbed the anxiety a bit.

Two years and some change earlier, “You decided which branch, mate?” Charlie said. As if the London bombings had made me anymore patriotic. Charlie saw a gorgeous chick sitting at the RAF table and he approached her lustfully, which led him to tour the beautiful Solomon Islands. Too bad it wasn’t a good season to go. I eyed each booth. None of them were really promising, except for one. The shoreline was visible.

“30 seconds,” The troops in my boat braced themselves. What is there to think about in your last 30 seconds? Family? Friends? Regrets?

“What?” Charlie was furious. “Yep,” I said. He looked over occasionally, but kept his eyes on the road. “Be a man. Be in the Royal Air Force,” Charlie said. What does that even mean? “What about those uniforms? Women love guys in pilot uniforms. I’m sorry buddy but, you’re not gonna get much for being a Limey.” He was right; maybe I wouldn’t get as much respect, but wouldn’t get as much flak either.

My father spoke about the Great War many times. All of his horror stories. He always told me, “go to college, get a job, don’t do what I did.” I can remember the nights when he’d scream. It echoed through the house. Mum couldn’t get him to stop so he eventually started sleeping on the couch. One night I heard it and went downstairs. I watched as my father gripped his blankets in terror.

“20 seconds.” One sergeant vomited in his helmet. He wasn’t thinking because he would eventually need that. He was probably thinking about his two kids that he always talked about. His wife had recently left him while he was in boot camp, so his kids were up for adoption. The explosions got more severe as we approached. The fear was almost paralyzing. What would this be like for the men getting off the boat? I didn’t expect what was coming. “10 seconds!” The shore was right in front of us. The tall cliff of Point du Hoc loomed overhead. Pvt. Stark started to pray, he wasn’t normally a praying man, he even said so a few times. Funny how a situation like that could turn you right around.

The night before, I was on a large troop transport. “Man, God really has a funny sense of humor,” an Army Ranger said to me as he was walking away. I had just told him why I was in the Navy, trying to avoid conflict. He laughed and told some other doomed private about my misfortune. That same Army Ranger was in my boat. He was the comedian of his platoon. Everyone wanted to be around him; his jokes could always lighten the mood.

It was time. I launched the hook up to the cliffside. The hook was attached to a rope, so troops could climb up the cliff with sixty pounds of gear on their backs. Not to mention they’d be getting shot at by machine gun nests at the top. The hook latched onto the sandy cliff.

The boat slowed to a halt. The doors opened. They had no chance. Rounds tore through my crew. From front to back, they were cut to pieces by rounds that made holes the size of golf balls. Blood and chunks of flesh splattered against each soldier as the man in front of them took several rounds. They were hopeless. There was no control, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Then something threw me back against my seat. I hadn’t felt the pain till I looked at my shoulder and saw the bullet hole. Blood was streaming down my tan vest. I fell behind the steering wheel and took cover, hoping to stay safe until it was all over.

A long whistle. Then a loud explosion that split the boat in half and threw me completely out and into the English channel. I was sinking fast and couldn’t fight it. My helmet and ammo belt were dragging me down. I let go of all of it. The helmet, the tan vest, the ammo belt with canteen were gone. As the necessities were being dropped, I saw the bodies, men who struggled with their equipment but couldn’t get them off in time.

I flopped onto the sand. The explosion had almost blown out my ear drums so all that was audible was ringing. My face pressed into the sand and I lay motionless. Keeping my eyes closed for what seemed an eternity, I was ignorant of what was going on around me. When I opened them, several feet from my face was a young boy, staring back at me. He was only a torso, nothing else. He was the Army Ranger who thought my situation was funny.

I looked up toward the bottom of the cliff. Bodies and limbs strewn about the beach. I looked back. The channel was red. How was anyone supposed to survive this? My head went back down, waiting my turn, waiting for my bullet. I hoped it would be clean. No pain. One to the head.

My shirt was suddenly being pulled up with two hands. I looked back and a medic and another infantryman were pushing me to safety. Suddenly one hand dropped after a metal ping. My left arm dropped and the pain in my shoulder grew. The medic took a round through the helmet. The infantryman readjusted his weight and picked me back up. He pushed me to the bottom of the cliff. Other frightened soldiers were there, some in shock, others in fight mode.

Boats were coming in, the doors would open, the soldiers in the front would take the hits, the soldiers in the back would get out. Most likely by jumping over the side. Is this the ‘great crusade’ that Eisenhower spoke of?

The man next to me was crying out to someone. To whom, I’m not sure. His tear and snot filled mouth prevented me from making that clear. He had a necklace in his hand that he held onto tight. He was last in line to climb the rope nearest to him, but as he waited, he cried and cried and cried. A potato masher came twirling down from the nest above us. It landed in the pitiful man’s lap. I leaped away from him and buried my head in my hands. The earth shook as the grenade exploded. Looking back, I saw what remained of the man. Nothing recognizable but the hand clinging to the necklace.

I crawled back against the cliffside with a choice. Stay here and die, or go up the cliff and die. Observing the bodies, I scrounged what equipment was needed. Helmet and ammo belt. There was an M1 rifle that was not being used. I strapped it to my back and went to the nearest rope. There was a lieutenant waving people up as he gave them covering fire from his Thompson. He saw me and recognized my patch. He smiled for a brief second and I knew what he was thinking.

I grabbed onto the rope and waited for the man in front of me to get far enough up, though they didn’t get far before some Germans stood at the top of the cliff and shot down on them. A turkey shoot. Two bodies dropped twenty feet and slammed onto the ground.

I aimed the rifle at the soldiers at the top of the cliff and put my finger on the trigger. The rifle was heavy at a standing position, so I kneeled down, placed my elbow on my knee and put one of the Germans in my sights. I squeezed the trigger, it jerked my shoulder back, causing more pain. Squeezing the trigger again, I hit the man. He fell back with force. The lieutenant opened fire on the other Germans, making them take cover.

Once the cliff above our rope was clear, we began our ascension. There was no going back. Either I reach the top, or fall back down like a heavy board. My arms and shoulders were burning. Were we just climbing in vain?

My hands could now touch the top. The last ounce of energy was to pull myself up. The Germans were pulling back into a trench. Behind the trench was a concrete pillbox, which was impregnable except for the back door. There was no end in sight. The kraut I had shot was crawling toward the trench before letting himself drop in.

To my left and to my right, American troops were gaining a foothold. They yelled and screamed as they charged. My morale was revived enough to get my whole body onto the cliff top. I felt an energy that had never existed before. The battle did not seem hopeless so I charged toward the trenches. Explosions went off around us, but we kept going. Bullets whizzed past our heads, but we kept going. Men around us dropped like rag dolls, but we kept going. Churchill would be proud.

I dropped down into the trench. There were dead Germans all about. The lieutenant entered shortly after. He took cover behind a corner and gave me a signal to wait, so I did. Observing the bodies with us, I saw one moving. A young German, probably about sixteen. He could hardly keep his eyes open but he locked them with mine. He was filled with fear and sadness. A boy who had not yet experienced life, but wanted to before Hitler took his youth. Was this the man I shot?

I reached back and unbuttoned the canteen pouch and motioned to the German to take it, but I could see he didn’t have the life in him to grab it. I twisted the top off and nodded at him. He opened his mouth and I poured the contents of the canteen in. Stopping to let him swallow, I watched him quietly fade from existence. His eyes didn’t close, they just stared lifelessly back at me, with almost a look of rebuke.

“Let’s go,” the lieutenant said, almost forgot he was there. Replacing the canteen into the pouch, I grabbed my rifle. He went down a long alley in the trench and I followed closely behind. He stopped at another corner, this time with a good view of the concrete pillbox. Inside was an MG42, being manned by two Germans. One who kept his eye on the view, while the other aimed down the sights. The gun was cutting down the allied forces. “If we get close enough, we can disable that gun,” the lieutenant said. He knew what I was thinking. “You’re a rifleman first,” he said. My anxiety grew and I felt like puking. “I’ll be right with you,” he said. I braced myself for the end and gave him a nod. “We’re going up and over,” he said as he climbed up onto the top of the trench. He gave me a hand and brought me to his level. We charged. Smoke was all over, we couldn’t see anything, but kept going. In that moment, a fire started in me. I was ready to face whatever happened next. I gritted my teeth and charged with ferocity. Maybe I should have taken Charlie’s advice and joined the Airborne Division or something.

We reached the side of the concrete pillbox, which was a blind spot for the Germans in the bunker. We slowly moved along the side of it with our weapons at the ready. Once we reached the back, there was another American waiting for the right time to clear the pillbox. He was relieved to see us. The lieutenant gave the man a signal for a grenade. The soldier nodded. He reached down onto his belt and grabbed a grenade. He pulled the pin and pushed down on the lever. The man waited a few seconds. He released the lever and it flew up in the air. He pushed open the back door and tossed in the grenade. The soldier shut the door. There was a contained explosion from within. The MG42 fell silent.

The lieutenant kicked in the door and moved in with the other soldier. I entered behind them. They put a few rounds into the bodies, just in case. Once done, the lieutenant walked calmly out of the pillbox. I followed suit. The sound of gunfire was getting less and more distant. “What’s your name?” he asked me. “Clarke, sir,” I said. “You did well today. Too bad you’re not an infantryman, instead of a salty Brit,” he said as he walked away, looking for his platoon. I never saw him again.

I sat down on a pile of sand bags. The breeze eased my heart. Soldiers were walking about, looking for their comrades, or picking up ammo. I heard distant gun shots. Nothing to worry about. A medic noticed my wound and came to my relief. He started working on my shoulder. “You’re a boat driver?” he said. “How did you end up here?” I shook my head. My mind was elsewhere. “Uh...God has a funny sense of humor, I guess,” I finally said. That’s all I could think of.

Two days later I was back on one of the main ships in the channel. I received a letter from my mum that Charlie had been killed earlier that year. He had been shot down over one of the Pacific islands. He survived the crash, but was slaughtered by some Japanese troops on patrol.

I woke up on my couch in cold sweats. My hands were shaking. My son was sleeping on the floor. He watched me every night as my nightmares ensued. He didn’t quite understand why they happened. He was too young to understand and it would be my goal to make sure that he never did.

David White is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design with a degree in film and a minor in creative writing. He has a passion for all mediums of storytelling, including prose, screenwriting, and entertainment journalism. David also loves the war history of the 20th century and the ally entities involved.

Share this!

Fueling Wholesome Entertainment

TWJ Magazine is the premier publication for lovers of the written word.