1 Grit and Outremer

The air was full of salt and latent plumes of musk that enraptured the world around me in full, my worn body standing motionless amidst the moving waves and infantrymen as we headed towards Omaha.

My army-issue trench-boots had painful sores that skirted against the hard metal surface of the P.T. transport boat we were all holed up on, the floor scattered deviously with cracks and rust-points and all manner of dust. Indiscriminate candy-bar wrappers and cigarette smokes, colorful comic books and newspapers, bibles (don't forget the bibles)–all the vestiges of the world we were leaving behind to warm our collective soul in the world we were about to land on. For how long, not a soul knew. 

A little locket dangled around my neck as a sorely-needed talisman for my psyche, rustling stalwart against the coming winds. Unceremoniously inscribed on it, an old family name: "Dawid."

My army fatigues sagged against the bleak fog that enveloped the seascape and the sky itself, all dirtied and scrunched up from the 'practice' drills Sarge had run us through. We had hauled our beleaguered asses over artificially swamped creeks of water, let our hands bleed climbing against lines of roping, and muscled our way through arduous rock formations and forests. It had gone on for days. Weeks, really. Months. Whatever the time, the sleeves of our standard-issue jackets acted as mirthless masks for the scars we'd already endured before, sadistic hints of what greater bedevilment was to come of our bodies. Bruises and scrapes became lovely rarities as more brutal openings of liminal red turned out to be all too commonplace under our sleeves and shirts. The great showman of fate giving us a theatrical prologue to the blood we'd shed damn soon enough. 

We wondered if by the end of the day's events, we'd have more scar than skin.

And who could forget the eternally versatile equipment kits and ration packs that drooped abreast my torso, serving our many needs on the battlefield? The myriad pieces of wartime paraphernalia jingled and jangled with every movement of our bodies, as the shaking sounds vexed our minds more than the equipment saved our lives. Lieutenant Johnson joked that with all the knives and bayonets they packed in there, you'd more easily bludgeon the contingent of servicemen around you than a Kraut entrenched a hundred miles away. Who, conveniently, was ready to shoot your brains out at a moment's notice. (More like a millisecond's notice, by the way the beaches were looking...)

As the greatest body protection measures Uncle Sam could buy went further up my body, you'd think the camo-colored, Kevlar-laced army helmets that we were doled out like clockwork would provide us the most protection. The most lengthening of our happy-go-lucky lives. But that wasn't the thing that protected me most. (The Krauts damn sure were foaming at the mouth to send hundreds of tons of lead ringing through it, that was a given.) A helmet wasn't the single object of matter and soul that gave me the most resolve of will.

No, the one thing in the world that delivered the most sanctity and tenacity to my heart, that made me feel to some degree that I would be safe in life, that I would be well in the mind (and perhaps even in body) after all this shit was said and done–it wasn't any of that. Not the splintering helmet, not the ratcheting supply kit, not the moldering fatigues, not the sole-clenching boots.  

It was my family's Star of David locket that gracefully draped below my neck that gave me the most solace in this war-torn world. 

Its six-pointed starry shape was rimmed by a dark blue outline, inlaid by white contours that spoke to the optimistic determination that only a member of Abraham's religious band could hold in these trying moments. Its iron necklace, painted a pallid hue of grey yet still able to glint light away, provided a seminal connection between the star's visage and my own mortal being. Its sleek veneer somehow shone mightily against all the soon-to-be chaos wrapped around it, moving deftly in the air as we began to depart for the beachhead. The star's size on my neck was miniscule but its presence on my soul was astronomical. 

For Jews are no stranger to overcoming the odds of all the world pitted against them. From the primordial times of Jesus' death to the Dark Age persecutions and the Spanish Inquisition; the vicious pogroms in Russia and now state-sponsored racism and genocide executed in totality yet again throughout the bloodied mounds of Europe–as bullets rained down I could only think that this wasn't the first time a Jew faced the weight of all fate slung against him. And I could only feel the all-encompassing solace that the star vivified in the essence of my moving body as I braved past every last bullet that rang my way. Both the hundreds that whizzed past me and the lucky few that lodged themselves in my flesh.

Pain was a fickle thing when you have the soulful emblem of your entire heritage and historical being pushing you far out from the depths of mankind to hard-fought triumph. Pain didn't deter all those around me either, who likewise braved through the corpses piling around them, the blood spewing out from every orifice Uncle Sam could tearfully envision and other assortments of bodily fluids gagging away from soldiers' bodies as we made wearied progress along the beachhead. Pain could not stall the advance of a band of men who were fighting for their own existences, the nature of purpose for their souls.

Pain wasn't going to stop the 52nd infantry battalion of the U.S. Army as it made its way through Nazi-infested Europe. 

With every corpse we inched our way past the bloodshed and saw glimmers of light peek out from behind the smokened mortars and naval fortifications, like a playful child behind a hiding place. With every bullet slicing through a green-hatted skull, three more gallant men charged to take his place, to ensure his demise was not for naught. With every scalding breath taken in the midst of the embattled exhaustion and delirium that becomes routine under the auspices of war, there were fleeting images of the lives we would be bettering, removing from the very same fate of ours. So that the rays of sunshine may slowly but diligently, sorely but earnestly, emerge from the omnipresent chasm of darkness.

The Star of David would propel all of us and I through the depths of hell itself–into the heights of hard-won heaven.