We stand alone to­gether

The Covington News - - Front page -

When­ever June 6 falls on a Sun­day, my col­umn sub­ject will most likely be that long­est of days in 1944 when Al­lied forces as­saulted Nazi Ger­many’s “Fortress Europe.” Op­er­a­tion Over­lord, his­tory’s largest naval in­va­sion, still stag­gers the mind when con­sid­er­ing lo­gis­tics, alone.

The temp­ta­tion is to re­cite de­tails to es­tab­lish cred­i­bil­ity. But what’s im­por­tant about D-day isn’t found in statis­tics, nor in aca­demic ex­per­tise. It’s not about know­ing of the cre­ation of a fake army un­der Gen­eral Ge­orge Pat­ton de­signed to con­fuse the Ger­mans, nor about po­lit­i­cal pres­sures ex­erted upon Supreme Com­man­der Dwight Eisen­hower. It’s not about cat­a­loging years of stock­pil­ing sup­plies and mu­ni­tions, of turn­ing Bri­tain into an air­craft car­rier, or bil­let­ing so many Amer­i­can troops in ev­ery nook and cranny that Brits com­plained of G.I.s be­ing “over­paid, over-sexed, and over here!”

No. What’s im­por­tant boils down, as it al­ways does, to what mere mor­tals of ten­der flesh and pre­cious blood did when faced with al­most cer­tain death. What did they do when ac­tion re­quired sur­ren­der to duty even as ev­ery sinew quiv­ered for self-preser­va­tion and ev­ery sy­napse begged to re­main shel­tered in rel­a­tive safety?

That brings us to a place called Cur­ra­hee and a group of men for­ever linked in nomen­cla­ture as Easy Com­pany, 506th Parachute In­fantry Reg­i­ment. Our grate­ful nation knows them, sim­ply, as a “Band of Broth­ers.”

Easy’s story be­gins in the lit­tle town of Toc­coa, Ga. That’s where Mount Cur­ra­hee is lo­cated, where Camp Toc­coa was built and the 506th trained, and where to­day a re­mark­able mu­seum makes it pos­si­ble for con­tem­po­rary cit­i­zens to lit­er­ally touch the lives of those who did the im­pos­si­ble on June 6, 1944.

Those Easy men, at 1:30 a.m. on this date 66 years ago, parachuted into a mael­strom of anti-air­craft and ma­chine gun fire be­hind en­emy lines. Fol­low­ing Lt. Richard Win­ters, they de­stroyed an en­trenched three-gun bat­tery of Ger­man ar­tillery, which had been wreak­ing havoc on Utah Beach. Win­ters, el­e­vated to com­mand of Easy by at­tri­tion, was awarded the Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Cross for lead­ing the as­sault, which to­day still serves as West Point’s text­book ex­am­ple for elim­i­nat­ing such an em­place­ment.

Easy, and Win­ters, fought their way through the rest of what author Cor­nelius Ryan called, in his epic work, “the long­est day.” The story of the 506th through June 6 and be­yond, in­clud­ing Op­er­a­tion Mar­ket Gar­den, de­fend­ing Bas­togne in “the Bat­tle of the Bulge,” and cap­tur­ing Hitler’s Ea­gle’s Nest in Bertes­garten, has been memo­ri­al­ized by Tom Hanks and Steven Spiel­berg in their “Band of Broth­ers” mini-se­ries.

Half­way around the world, on an­other day, at an­other bat­tle, Ad­mi­ral Ch­ester Nimitz would say of the courage ex­hib­ited by ev­ery­day Amer­i­cans on the sands of Iwo Jima:

“Un­com­mon valor was a com­mon virtue.”

Sim­i­larly, the men of Easy Com­pany weren’t the only he­roes in Nor­mandy 66 years ago. The U. S. Navy had its share, though they’re hardly house­hold names. There were the skip­pers of four de­stroy­ers — Doyle, Em­mons, Frank­ford and Hard­ing — who, wit­ness­ing the plight of the 29th In­fantry’s “Bedford Boys” on Omaha Beach and the Rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc, conned their tin cans into wa­ters so shal­low the keels nearly scraped as they fired, point blank, cov­er­ing the troop­ers.

And a grand old bat­tlewagon, USS Ne­vada, res­ur­rected from her heroic sprint at Pearl Har­bor, earned a bat­tle star on DDay with pin­point shelling in sup­port of the para­troops in­land.

In 2004 some ev­ery­day he­roes in Toc­coa de­cided to go ex­tra miles to memo­ri­al­ize the legacy of the Cur­ra­hee men and the 506th. Ex­pand­ing the Stephens County His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety’s mu­seum, these vol­un­teers built the Cur­ra­hee Mil­i­tary Mu­seum in­side the town’s old train de­pot. The cen­ter­piece is the ac­tual horse sta­ble which housed Easy Com­pany in Eng­land, care­fully dis­as­sem­bled, shipped and re­built on site. The walls of the last home many of the Toc­coa men would know still bear their carved names, a tac­tile con­nec­tion span­ning time.

The num­bers of sur­viv­ing World War II he­roes are dwin­dling now, seem­ingly faster each year. Some still walk among us, lead our church ser­vices, and set stan­dards for the rest of us while form­ing the bedrock for com­mu­ni­ties across Amer­ica. They ask lit­tle, and count each day as the bless­ing they know it to be. They’re mostly quiet, self­less se­niors, too of­ten over­looked by the young as just an­other el­derly per­son.

But they’re so much more than that...

Not long ago, dur­ing the film­ing of “Band of Broth­ers,” the mod­est Richard Win­ters held his grand­daugh­ter in his lap.

“Grandpa,” she asked, “were you a hero in the war?”

“No,” he be­gan, but as a thought formed his voice caught, and he had to pause. Gath­er­ing him­self, even as a tear traced down his cheek, Win­ters con­tin­ued.

“But I served in a com­pany of them.”

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