What Beaches Teach Us

Like many others in my peer group who first started typing on a manual typewriter, I have had an ambivalent love/mostly hate relationship with computers from the get go – continually feeling intimidated and frustrated with impenetrable jargon that requires a call to India to get a computer up and running, a new standard of typing excellence that tolerates no typos, and power point presentations with stunning visual effects to keep the audience from nodding off.  However, for our son Ned, it has been pure love ever since the day we opened the door and let the devil walk in. 

We started innocently enough with a reality game called Oregon Trail, where we were supposed to outfit a family traveling west on a wagon train.  The only part of the game that Ned liked was the option of heading out to shoot game, leaving the women and children alone on the Conestoga wagon, succumbing to croup, dropsy, mosquitoes or random catastrophes, such as getting caught in a wagon wheel.  We were constantly hungry because Ned was not a very good shot and would quickly run out of ammunition.  Everyone in our wagon train would always die before Salt Lake City.  My friends George and Martha played with their daughter Sarah, who actually successfully got her wagon train all the way to San Francisco without any attrition.  She said that the key was to stop in Navoo and stock up on pemmican and buy some mules and a cart before heading across the plains.  But Ned insisted that we could probably make it if we just bought more ammunition.

For Ned, this reality computer game served as a gateway to the true devil of online fantasy games, involving epic battles between vicious take-no-prisoners fantasy armies.  The computer screen would be dripping with blood and emitting agonizing death throes.  At one point Ned got very involved with a lurid game called Tribes.  One night at our family dinner, he got up and excused himself saying, “I am going to be late for my team practice.”  I assumed it was a school team, so was surprised when he informed me, “I have a practice with my online Tribes team because we have a match tonight at 11.”  That was probably my breaking point.   “Why can’t you get involved with something that has some sort of redeeming qualities?” I said.  “Every time I go by your room I hear gunfire and it depresses me.”

 He actually came up with a rather quick witted reply, “Look, I am learning life skills like how to strategize, plan ahead and be on a team.  Besides I notice that you regularly watch Law and Order, and so it seems to me that you watch plenty of death and violence yourself.”   I thought of trying to explain the difference between senseless anonymous killing and the obvious appeal of trying to unravel the motives of a tragically dysfunctional family, but felt that I would only be digging myself a deeper hole. 

Time for Plan B.  We were taking a spring break trip to Paris, and I thought that a side trip to the Normandy beaches would be an effective real life antidote to online violence.  We arrived at Omaha beach on a beautiful spring day.  The beach was pristine, peaceful and empty, an impossible contrast with images of the hell-on-earth D-Day beach.  I had read the book the Longest Day on the plane ride over, which showed pictures of overwhelming carnage – abandoned vehicles spewing forth acrid smoke, barely living men staggering around in a trance-like state and of course plenty of dead men.  The awkward bodies were partially submerged in sand, indicating that they must have been abandoned there for some time as the tide moved the sand around them.  I did not know if the beach was now abandoned out of respect, or come a warmer day in summer, the beach would be swarming with vacationing families with the sidewalk filling with strolling sweethearts and vendors selling ice cream from pushcarts.  It was hard to guess which scenario would be more poignant.

 The next stop was the Omaha Beach museum.  There seemed to be plenty of small museums in the area filled with relics collected by local residents ukviagras.com.  This museum included various dioramas, but also pictures and letters that were found on the dead soldiers.  It was at this moment that Ned began to appreciate the concept of a soldier as an individual and not an anonymous member of an expendable army.  From here we went to Pointe-du-Hoc where there was a German pillbox overlooking a bluff.  Peeking over the bluff, you could see that only the most heroic and downright lucky American could have ever made it to the top through the bullets raining down from the German pillbox.  The top of the bluff was spring-green and grassy, but the pock-marks from incoming artillery shells were still easily visible.  The whole area looked like a close up of the surface of a golf ball.  That evening we stayed at a farmhouse bed and breakfast, which was used as some sort of make shift hospital during D-Day.  Pictures on the walls showed the home overtaken by nurses and the wounded in the very rooms we were staying in.  I felt that I had scored another direct hit with Ned. 

However, nothing could have prepared us for the emotional wallop of our visit to the American Cemetery the next day.  The last turn in the long forested driveway opened onto seemingly endless rows of glistening tombstones.  We walked quietly through the rows, touching the tops of some of the stones or looking down to read the names of the fallen.  And just when I thought I could not bear it any longer, we turned the corner and saw the cemetery continuing unabated for another several acres.  Before we had left, our friend Ray Murphy mentioned that his uncle was buried in this cemetery and I thought it would make it a nice focus if we could find his grave.  Ray’s uncle had died before he was born and in fact there was no one left in his family who had known his uncle personally.  This is probably the fate of many in this cemetery as the living memory of World War II slowly slips away.  Somehow this seemed to make it more important to find a specific grave and bring it back to life as a real person and a family member.  Although Murphy is not a particularly unusual name, I was still surprised when the database showed that there were several dozen Murphys buried here.  Unfortunately, I did not have the details on Ray’s uncle, but thought it would be sufficient to find a representative grave.   We did indeed find a Murphy grave, placed some flowers and took some pictures.   Even though it turned out that we had guessed wrong, it really didn’t matter since Ray was immensely touched.  Even so, I wanted to track down the true living relatives, or relatives of any of the other deceased, to let them know that their Murphy was well taken care of and appreciated in this lovely and heartbreaking cemetery on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. 

We drove into town for dinner that night and unanimously agreed to forego the German restaurant and settled for a quiet dinner at an Italian restaurant.  We didn’t talk too much about the day or its implications, and in fact, when I mention this story to Ned, he claims that he does not recall too many details of this visit at all.  However, shortly thereafter I was gratified to realize that the gun noises stopped emanating from his room, he had dropped out of his Tribe and ever since then his focus has remained on online sports games.  Mission accomplished. 

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. post, stop, stop) and the number of dashes indicates the number of letters.  One missing words with rhyme with either the preceding or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the context of the poem.  Scroll down for the answers.

 On D-Day the infantryman heads for Omaha Beach full of anxiety and hopes,

 Knowing that his legacy as a solider will depend on how he —–

 With bloody beaches and slaughtered bodies strewn across the sand.

 While the enemy has his —– trained on him and death is near at hand.

 He claws his way up the bluff and collapses, momentarily safe behind a —– of trees.

 He pauses to thank the Lord on quaking and bended knees.







Answers;  copes, scope, copse

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