[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Recently, I had the privilege of attending a machinegun shoot at a gun range. I knew what gun I wanted to shoot- the German MG42, a belt-fed machinegun that lined the Atlantic wall of Europe. Watch Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan or any depiction of the Invasion of Normandy and you will see the rapid fire for which the MG42 was known.[/vc_column_text][banner300 banner=”5517620b381df”][vc_column_text]I stepped up to the gun as the gentleman helped load the ammo belt. I squeezed back on the trigger and took aim at a target car about 150 yards away and let ‘er rip. What followed was a rapid cacophony of gunfire and the 7.92mm rounds went soaring downrange. It was a rush.
However, though I am a firearm enthusiast and simply enjoy shooting, the real reason I wanted, I needed, to fire this machinegun was that I needed perspective- not as a firearm buff, but as a history buff.
You see, I picked this gun for a reason. I had recently returned from New Orleans where I visited the World War II museum. Naturally, as this was the location where the Higgins Boats were manufactured (the boats used to storm the beaches), there was a large emphasis on D-Day. Though the museum does a great job of educating, I resolved in the halls of the museum to commit myself to not just learning, but understanding war as best I could.
I needed to see the awesome power of this weapon and imagine a wall of these. I put myself in the shoes of the Allied soldiers storming a beach as these formidable weapons rained death upon them. What could possess a man to run on an open beach, over the bodies of his fallen comrades, as these horrendously effective weapons fired upon them? Why would they do this? Further, why would they do this for a country that was not theirs?
Freedom. Freedom for the French, freedom for the conquered people of Europe, and the noble ideal that tyrants and bullies cannot be allowed power simply because they were vicious enough to seize it.
Some could call it macabre, but I don’t agree; perspective is everything when attempting to understand war. To learn that our boys ran through machinegun fire is one thing; to see the rapidity and devastation of the weapon firing upon them lends another dimension to one’s understanding. What hell this must have been. No trees, no buildings, no cover- just sand and 1,200 rounds per minute flying at them.
And, to make matters worse, soldiers trudged with packs and gear into the water, neck-high, and made the slow journey to the sand. Then, as anyone who has ever tried to run on sand will attest, these soldiers tried to run to safety as the granular sand slipped below their feet, making each step slow.
For those who made it off the beach, the “easy” part was over; defeating the enemy who were safely entrenched in fortified bunkers became the new task-at-hand.
With grenades, rifles, flamethrowers, knives and even their bare hands, soldiers fought bunker to bunker and trench to trench and overwhelmed the Nazi defenders.
[/vc_column_text][banner300 banner=”553157113d3ff”][vc_column_text]So, is this a story about my day at the gun range? No. This is an urging to take a moment today, the 71st anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy, and not just think about the Longest Day, but to ask yourself, “What was it like?” Understand their sacrifice and know that while this was the most massive invasion in world history, men faced this terror on numerous occasions- in places like Okinawa, Iwo Jima and a multitude of other islands where we asked the impossible of “men” who, today, would be unable to buy a beer.
To further this understanding, please see the below video as Army veteran Sergio Moirano explains his experience on D-Day.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]