Staring out at the waters as they gently lapped against the shore, one could hardly imagine the devastation that had occurred here less than a month ago. The young naval officer had seen more bloodshed in his short life than any man should have to endure; too many young men cut down in the prime of their lives valiantly taking this beach. Auburn hair brushed against his forehead as the light breeze attempted to soothe away the pain of a memory still too fresh; memories that had seared into his brain and would remain with him until his dying day. On June 6, 1944, the Allies had launched the greatest amphibious invasion the world had ever seen. His part, though not as a foot soldier enduring the barrage of enemy fire from entrenched German bunkers, had been much more clandestine, slipping through anti-submarine nets in scuba gear and meeting with French resistance to coordinate their part in the surprise attack. He had watched the events unfold from behind enemy lines, his part in the assault now completed and without any way to further support the men who had valiantly taken the beach.
The young lieutenant paused from the painful recollection as he rubbed a smooth stone, painted with a poignant scene between his fingers.
The war was still raging behind him even now as he stood on the beach while the Allies made their way toward Paris, and there was no doubt in his mind that the great city would be liberated; but having completed his ONI assignments in the past weeks, it was time to return to the ship. Here he waited, with just a few short moments to reflect upon the sacrifice of his fellow soldiers and to lay a fitting tribute for the fallen. Small and unobtrusive, the painted rock was entrusted to his care by a foot soldier, having survived storming the beach and was now advancing through the French countryside. He had thrust the rock into Harry’s hands, making him promise to lay it as a tribute to their fallen brothers, and he was here to do just that.
Harry bent down, and placed the stone on the rocky beach, though not the exact landing spot, he wanted the memorial to stand past the first tide. Eventually, the silhouette soldier, saluting across the background of an American flag would be lost to the sea; but for now, it would eloquently mark the sacrifice of the brave men who had landed there.
He swallowed back the strong emotions welling from deep within him as he considered the lonely rock lying among thousands of others, distinguished from its counterparts only by the colors so meticulously placed. Deciding the monument needed more, he stacked rocks one upon the other, forming a pillar to guard the saluting soldier. It had taken a few moments to locate the flat, smooth rocks that would form the base, but for some reason it was profoundly important for him to do so. Lifting the final flat rock to form the pillar he found a perfectly round pebble to top off the monument and smiled, oddly at peace, as he placed the sphere on the top; the fragility of the monument was a loud spokesman to the fact that freedom was fragile and must be protected.
He leaned back, hoping that the tribute was fitting, though he had no way to let the soldier know that he had completed the task entrusted to him. He was headed toward the beach, in the opposite direction of the soldiers and still wearing French civvies, but his auburn hair peeking out from under the black cap had made him conspicuously noticeable. The jeep had slowed down to a crawl as it shared the road with the advancing troops when a soldier, even younger than he, broke ranks and thrust the rock into his hand. It took only a moment for him to make his request known and a quick nod with an accompanying promise by Harry, and that was the last he would ever hear from the Unknown Soldier.
Harry wiped the mist from his eyes and scanned the waters before him. In the distance, he could hear the speed boat heading his direction; it was time to go, but he was compelled to linger a moment longer. Looking down at the monument, he raised his eyes and dared to dream past the current day to the hope of tomorrow. A hope manifested in his mind by exploration for the good of mankind, coupled with the strength of the responsibility that guarding freedom demanded. He knew what it looked like, for he had dreamed of her often, writing complete blueprints in his head and vowing here and now, to see the apparition of his dreams become a reality. He scanned the Channel and squinted. He could almost see the bow of the submarine and her “impossible” windows. Not impossible, he declared silently as his mind filled in all the details of a conning tower rising tall and fixed planes that eloquently broke all the rules of modern submarine engineering.
The sound of the speed boat grew louder, and before the reality of the ongoing war could interrupt this moment of hope, he named the apparition, the Seaview. The boat now christened with a name, he was determined to build her, deciding that long after the waves had reclaimed this monument, that Seaview would remain a testament to future generations, declaring that the hopes and dreams of a better world were fought and won by the sacrifice of brave men and women. Whatever Seaview would mean to the future, it would always carry this special meaning to Lt. Harriman Nelson.
The 76th Anniversary of D-Day passed with less fanfare this year due to the pandemic. This is my tribute to the men and women of the “Greatest Generation” represented in my family with an uncle who was a tail-gunner on a B17, and family friend who was a truck driver on a base and told stories of waiting for the returning B17 bombers, counting each one as they landed and holding back tears for the planes that never arrived; two family friends who were Rosie Riveters back home, nurses, a personal friend who survived Pearl Harbor as a child and more…
God Bless you and all the men and women who have followed in your footsteps for freedom’s cause.