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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Stickin' it to The Man, Part I.

Normandy on June 8, 1944, was no place for fainthearts. After that day, no man of the 325th Glider Infantry Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division would ever be called that again.

[Commanding general of the 82nd Airborne General Matthew] Ridgway was trying to get across the Merderet River, to the west of town [St. Mere Eglise, liberated on June 6]. He wanted to finish what he started and take the causeway at a hamlet called La Fiere. The trouble was that it ran absolutely straight for about 500 yards and stood well above the marshes. The Germans were strongly entrenched on the far side, and there was no cover on the causeway. Crossing it was close to walking down the middle of a road in daylight under a sign saying "Shoot Me."

Ridgway tried to loosen the defenses by getting troops over via a ford farther north. A small group got across, but was easily contained. By the end of June 7 the causeway remained solidly in enemy hands. If it was going to be taken by the 82nd, it would have to be stormed.

Ridgway rounded up all the artillery he could muster, including a dozen 155s from the 4th Division, and the tank battalion was brought forward to provide suppressive fire. The next day he tried again.

The attack was mounted by the 325th Glider Infantry plus several tanks. It was the toughest fight they would ever see. Ridgway entrusted the charge across the causeway to [Col. James M.] Gavin, but he himself was there too, along with nearly every regimental and battalion commander in the 82nd. They exhorted, inspired, exposed themselves freely to enemy fire, did everything short of taking men individually by the hand and leading them across.

It was a mission that called for the crazy brave; a select--and normally unpopular--few. In getting themselves killed they stand a good chance of getting their buddies killed too. Nothing else would do, though, for combat like this. When the order was given to get onto the causeway, only the boldest, most daring gliderists raced forward; mere mortals lagged behind.

The carnage was numbing. A hundred men would fall so that a score traveling in what amounted to a state of grace could sprint to the far side. Then another hundred would go down, dead or wounded, while another score made it. The handful of survivors fell among the Germans in a frenzy, routing them in merciless hand-to-hand fights. This action was one of the most desperate that American troops saw anywhere in Europe.


From There's A War To Be Won: The United States Army In World War II, by Geoffrey Perret, p. 325, (Random House, 1991).

What's your gut reaction? Do derisive terms like "macho BS," or "hyper-masculine" come to mind?

I didn't think so.

Interestingly, Lutheran theologian Oscar Cullman compared the Incarnation to D-Day, arguing that Christ's birth was the beginning of the liberation, and the promise of victory, but that there would be a long battle until the V-E Day of Christ's return. Such makes more sense reading about the sacrifice of these incomparably brave men on D+2.

I ask you: When was the last time you heard the struggle of the Gospel cast in even remotely martial terms?

[Continuing to Part II]

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