Professor David Gelernter of Yale University is a man of formidable learning with little patience for phonies. In his Wall Street Journal column Too much, too late,” he detected a tidal wave of phoniness in the celebration of “the greatest generation” by folks with a profile that eerily resembles mine.
As a remedy for the phoniness he detected, Professor Gelernter prescribes the teaching of our children the major battles of the war, the bestiality of the Japanese, the attitude of the intellectuals, and the memoirs and recollections of the veterans. Professor Gelernter failed to assign a paper topic for the course he has prescribed. I will assign an essay on the subject of sacrifice. Do we deserve the sacrifice made on our behalf? What we can do to become worthy of it?
The battle of Omaha Beach that occurred sixty-three years ago today of course represents only a small part of Operation Overlord and the other battles that occurred on the Normandy beaches. But the story of Omaha Beach is deserving of special recognition.
S.L.A. Marshall was commissioned to serve as a combat historian with the Army in World War II. By 1960, he was already concerned that “the passing of the years and the retelling of the story have softened the horror of Omaha Beach on D Day.” In 1960 the Atlantic Monthly published Marshall’s essay on Omaha Beach based on the Normandy field notes he had compiled during his service as combat historian. Marshall’s essay, “First wave at Omaha Beach,” is available online but is unfortunately restricted to subscribers. (Marshall’s essay was the original source for some of the telling details that Stephen Ambrose lifted for his account of Omaha Beach in his book on D-Day.)
Marshall’s essay remains part of the required reading for the course Professor Gelernter has prescribed, though it is subject to correctives such as the one here and here.
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