Friday, June 06, 2008

Remembering D-Day

More than any other day, June 6 is the time to recite the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V:
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

No matter how many times I read that, I can't get to the end without a throat-lump.

Centuries later, I wonder if Patton had that passage in his head when he addressed his men before D-Day:
There is one great thing that you men will all be able to say after this war is over and you are home once again. You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you WON'T have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, 'Well, your Granddaddy shoveled shit in Louisiana.' No, Sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say, 'Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a-Goddamned-Bitch named Georgie Patton!'"

Read the whole thing here. Warning: Patton should have been named the Poet Laureate of Profanity, but it's all the more stirring for being phrased in a soldier's terms.

He was completely wrong in one thing, however: when he said "Only two percent of you right here today would die in a major battle." Fully half the men who landed that first day didn't make it to the second. My God. Half.

We owe our freedom to all soldiers, but more than any others, to those who landed at Normandy. For those who still remember the most decisive battle in modern times, and those who never came back, thank you, sirs. Just... thank you.

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