A triumphant battle for a young Canadian soldier soon becomes a hellish game of slaughter.
|The Sweetest Moment
The diesel engine of the landing craft vibrated under my crouched feet. My heart raced with it. Was it triumph, pride or exhilaration? I could say that I felt a bit of it all. No words could describe the glowing sensation in my chest as we braced the currents and roared toward the enemy shore. Our shore. This land was once the beautiful and peaceful France. This beach was once where children, filled with glee, built sand castles and couples lay on the sand, bathing under the sun. But the Germans took everything away. Under their ruthless, cold-blooded leader, the Nazi war machine put a continent under suppression. I remembered the time when I was back in Halifax, under infantry training. I had watched, on film, in fierce anger as country after country fell under the tracks of the German tanks. I had stared in hopelessness as cities across Britain were set aflame from the bombs of the Luftwaffe. But now, everything is about to be changed. We, the 7th Canadian Brigade fighting under Allied uniforms, are about to be the liberators of France… the liberators of a distraught Europe. The moment that I’ve been waiting for is now at hand! The Nazis are about to pay for what they have done!
A never-ending wave of Allied fighters, bombers and airships soared overhead, roaring toward land, meeting no resistance. They hurled bombs and destruction upon the German defenses. Our sleek landing craft cut through the waves and wind like a sledgehammer. All around us, the great guns of Allied destroyers, battleships and cruisers fired continuously. They bellowed shells and shrapnel onto the beach. Bursts of scattered gunfire could be heard from the coast, but the armada was invincible.
As the enemy volleys became more frequent, gigantic balls of water and mud exploded all around us. I realized that the shore was near. The sound of mortars flying overhead was deafening. Keeping my head down, I readied my Enfield No.4 rifle and glanced nervously around. I was reassured with a cheerful grin and thumbs-up sign from our commander. I glanced at my watch: seven hundred hours, June 6th. I smiled to myself and shoved my way through the crouched bodies. I pressed my nose upon the cold steel bow door of the landing craft.
To tell the truth, I was an amateur soldier. Two years of rigorous combat training and drills turned me into an able warrior, but nothing could have prepared me for the mental discipline that I needed on the battleground. When the giant doors of the LCVP flung open, I was thrown into another world. Reality hit me in the face like a bucket of cold water. I was taken with awe. Death, torture and agony… The moment I stepped out of our little marine asylum was a moment of realization. I didn’t have a warrior’s heart.
“Go! Go! Go,” our leader yelled hoarsely, but the world seemed to run in slow motion. The glow in my heart that took weeks to amass was instantly smothered by the grim scene. I had never in my life witnessed such mortality, destruction and blood. All around, able-bodied young men became handicaps moments after they stepped out of their landing vehicles. Enemy gunfire sprayed ceaselessly down from the seawall like a rain of acid. Artillery fire pounding from coastal bunkers turned the beach into a smouldering wreck. Disembarking Allied tanks were blown open, gun turrets flung into the air like mere pieces of wood. Bodies were ripped open like bags of blood, heads crushed beyond recognition, skin burned red and black. The sour smell of disintegrating corpses and the smoke was too real. I was thrown into a nightmare of a scale I wouldn’t be capable of dreaming. However, this was a nightmare that I wouldn’t be able to wake up from, one in which I could not scream.
I knew that I wasn’t wounded, but my legs felt like they had splints on them. Following the others blindly, I hobbled my way up the wide slope. The shells from above continued to crash down on us, ripping the sand this way and that. I could hear the smaller bullets whizzing past my ear, sending shivers down my spine. At times, death was inches away from me. I aimed my rifle in the general direction of machine gun fire and pressed the trigger involuntarily, not caring who or what I hit. As we got closer, the sound of firing escalated. Soon I could make out the enemy soldiers, figures looming here and there. As they jumped out of their hiding spots, I instinctively ducked. My comrades weren’t as lucky. They collapsed around me, letting out screams that made me shudder. Some chocked for air, others chocked on their blood. Men coughed, yelled and cried. All I knew was that I had to keep going, as if by stopping, my heart would stop beating. I continued to stagger on, pressing on the trigger, firing, firing, firing...
Fortune held my life that day, but fate had to show me everything. I was about the only one left in perfect health, yet my body trembled as if I was in a seizure. What remained of our regiment stumbled to the top of the seawall. Concrete bunkers, pill-boxes and trenches lined the defensive boundary. As we advanced toward the last line of German resistance, Allied soldiers began to fight hand-in-hand with their counterparts. Metres away, an enemy pillbox blew up in a burst of shattering concrete and wooden planks. Instinctively, I covered my head and ducked. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a desperate German soldier running out of the smoking shelter. Blindly, he threw a grenade as he went. The bomb hit someone in the back, friend or foe I could not recognize. I turned away before I could witness the detonation. The offender himself, heavily burned from the pillbox fire, dropped to the ground with his hand clutching his soul. In every direction I looked, I was hit with more tragedy. Young lads wrestled with each other’s guns, blowing each other’s heads off from talking distance... youngsters stabbing bayonets into each other’s chests. I watched in disgust as a German machine-gunner was flung from his post. I did not hear the blast. He was a silent ghost flung into the air, tumbling down the slope, dead before he hit the bottom. I have to say that I felt compassion for him.
With the energy drained out of me, my weapon slipped out my hands. The English and German cries for water, medical attention and death became undistinguishable. Interestingly, the sound of explosions began to seize. I glanced around. Everything was smouldering. Everything was grey. Everyone was at their deathbeds, but me. “What am I doing here? Why am I the only one standing still? This isn’t fair!” Uncontrollably, I started shake with laughter. Perhaps I was hysterical. “All these people, facing at each other and then falling, perhaps they could have just have jumped off a roof instead. Ah, what a great plan! Never mind the mighty battleships, the sophisticated tanks, the sleek rifles… why don’t we all just sit on landmines?” I chucked harder. “What’s worth fighting for? We’re all children put to annihilate each other by inconsiderate parents.” Faced with the bleak conclusion that humanity has reached nothing, I lost all will to live.
A sudden sharp pain in the chest jolted me out of my daydream. My chuckles suddenly became coughs; I felt the blood being drained from my face. My legs buckled and I hit the ground brutally. My head slammed into a puddle of mud, and my arms were squashed into an awkward position. “What on earth was that”, I thought for a moment, puzzled at first. Then, with bitter understanding, I spotted the gruesome sign that I too, had been shot. “Blood can be so red, especially on a yellow beach”, said a voice in my head. “Shut up!” “What?” I croaked. Something was in my throat. I thought that I had just swallowed some of the mud I lay in, but it was more of the bright red stuff. “Water,” I uttered. Someone was beside me, someone still alive. “Water…” Why is nobody hearing me? “Water… Water please!” The final yelp was successful, apparently. I heard shuffling a few feet away.
Someone in grey uniforms struggled over to me. I found reassurance flood over my body. I had trouble moving my head; it felt like bowling ball, glued to the ground. I tried shifting my arms, but they did not obey my command. Irritated, I used my shoulder. A piercing burst of pain instantly ran through my chest, taking the breath out of me. The puddle in which I lay grew redder.
The soldier put a comforting hand over my shoulder. He gingerly lifted my head up to the skies. He held a green object to my lips. I sighed with relief as water trickled down my swollen lips. I closed my eyes… the cool liquid dribbled down my throat. It tasted crisp and fresh, like life-saving liquor. My racing heartbeat slowed down. My mind calmed. Du-dum… du-dum…
Suddenly I felt that something wasn’t right. I couldn’t just lie here and enjoy the only bottle of water he carried. I must give him a gesture of thanks, even if that’s all I could do for him. With all my remaining strength I pried my eyes open…
And saw the unmistakable gold-embodied Swastika hanging on his uniform.
Right then, I felt the glow in my heart again… the glow that I had felt when I rode on the landing craft. The glow that I felt before I witnessed the scenes of death and torture. But this time, the glow was somehow different. This time, the fire in my heart burned a soft-orange, not bright white. My heart was a candle. It was a memorandum for all these children, left without a choice… these children, taught to kill, whose love was smouldered out of their hearts. I was relieved to learn that kindness still exist amongst our hearts.
The noise of the battlefield became muted. The sky closed in.
The flame that is my soul burned bitter-sweet.
Then, it flickered and died.