Saturday, June 7, 2014

D-Day Anniversay - Life and Death Captured on Film

Seventy years ago today, thousands upon thousands of men faced their fears and death and stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in the largest seaborne invasion that has ever taken place in human history.  Standing in landing craft as they bounced through the waves each one of those men must have thought countless times about the possibility that their lives would end within minutes.  Imagining the horror filling their minds, it is difficult to understand how those soldiers could be so dedicated, determined and focused on their jobs that they didn't hesitate and disembarked off those land craft onto beaches filled with death.

Over the years I have watched many documentaries on World War II and the Normandy invasion.  Though I have no idea of the real numbers, I won't think that there would have been a lot of photographers, reporters or video cameramen who took part in the beach landings.  Obviously there were some as there is film footage of the troops landing on the beach.  In most of the films you see men running or seeking cover, explosions and bullets flying through the air.  Death is not normally shown except at a distance when a bomb explodes, a ship sinks or an aircraft plummets to the ground.  There is one piece of film that shows a number of soldiers emerging from the surf and running up the beach.  The first soldiers run by and pass out of the camera's central focus.  Another soldier enters the center of the screen and he is hit by a bullet or shrapnel and immediately falls to the ground motionless. 

That piece of film is in many documentaries made about the Normandy invasion.  Every time I see it even though I know what is going to happen, I recoil a little in horror as the soldier is hit and falls to the ground.  Who was this man?  Where was he from?  Was he really dead as it appears on the film, or was he just injured and would go to fight another day?  What was his life like and what were the thoughts going through his mind as he ran across that beach?  Was his body swept back into the surf and dragged out to sea or is he buried somewhere in the cemeteries for the fallen?  I can't help but wonder those questions each time I see that piece of film.  I'll never know the answers to those questions as probably no one knows who he was.  But I can't help but think about him every time I watch a film on Normandy.

(Original picture from D-Day taken by sailor on board this land craft.  Photo is courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

Approximately 150,000 from the allied nations took part in the invasion and battle that took place on June 6, 1944.  Though the exact number is not precisely known, an effort by a historian with the National D-Day Foundation found that approximately 4400 allied soldiers died on that day.*  So for every soldier taking in the invasion roughly 3 in 100 died that day!

I won't have wanted to be one of those men who stormed the beaches of Normandy that day, but I am thankful that they did as it was the beginning of the end of one of history's biggest horror stories.  Each time I think of Normandy I will always think of that nameless man who fell and most likely died before he got more than a few steps onto that beach.

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

* The number of soldiers who actually died on that day is not precisely know because of many different factors.  The first factor is that many bodies were never recovered.  They have been washed out to sea, buried by earth thrown up by explosions or there may simple have been nothing left of soldiers killed by explosions.  Those soldiers were listed as MIA and many were not recorded as having died until at least a year later.  Other soldiers may have been killed and weren't found until days later at which time their death was listed as the day they were found.  Other soldiers may have been so grievously wounded that they survived for a day or two but then succumbed to their wounds later.  So though they were initially injured on D-Day their deaths would occur days later.  Determining a precise number of exactly who died or was wounded on that day and died of their wounds later is difficult.  However from the work that has been done, most experts agree on that roughly 4400 would died.  The most precise figure I saw while trying to determine this was 4413,

I found the following footnote attached to an article on the website Fivethirtyeight ( when I was researching the number of D-Day deaths. 

"Many history books include disclaimers. “The exact number of casualties suffered in the invasion of Normandy will never be known,” Encyclopaedia Britannica says. The historian Stephen A. Ambrose wrote in his book “D-Day,” in a footnote, “No exact figures are possible, either for the number of men landed or for casualties, for D-Day alone.” In their book by the same name, Randy Holderfield and Michael Varhola wrote, “Even in modern war, the nature of battle prevents a reasonably accurate count for a given period of time.” In “The Longest Day,” Cornelius Ryan wrote, “by the very nature of the assault it was impossible for anyone to arrive at an exact figure.”"

Friday, May 30, 2014

Denver to Bratislava

Traveling for work isn't something that I do very often at this time.  But when I do travel it seems like the trips are to more unique places that are much further from home.  This week I have traveled to the Bratislava, the capital of the Slovakia.

Never having been to Bratislava or Slovakia before I have been surprised by the beauty of the city and it's dynamic, modern character.  Though the city is not large, it seems to always be busy with people moving throughout it's neighborhoods day and night.

My trip began on Sunday May 25th when Lisa dropped me off at the Denver airport for a 5:25pm flight from Denver to Frankfurt.  Arriving in Frankfurt around 11:00am on Monday, May 26th I had a several hour layover there before flying on to Budapest, Hungary.  From Budapest I caught a train and made the 2 3/4 hour trip to Bratislava. 

Bratislava given it's size and proximity to other international airports doesn't have a large airport.  Commercial flights are flown into the Bratislava but the cost of these flights are extremely high.  Most travelers arrive by air in Bratislava via the international airport in Vienna, about 40 miles to the west of Bratislava.  My trip went through Budapest as the flight was almost $1000 cheaper than flying through Vienna.  Despite this being a business trip there was no reason to spend a much larger amount of money as taking the train trip allowed me to see a good bit of the Hungarian and Slovakian country side.

Arriving in Bratislava in darkness I had no idea that my hotel, the Sheraton Bratislava, was situation right on the banks of the Danube River!  Imagine my surprise as I got up to walk to the office on Tuesday morning when I noticed that I was right on the banks of the Danube.  This might not seem like a big deal to most but the Danube has conjured up images of castles and pitched medieval battles in my head and it gave me a pleasant surprise to find myself walking to work on the bank of this famous river.

Unfortunately my trip has not offered me much opportunity to explore the city.  My of my time has been spent in the office or in my hotel room working away on the project that has brought me to Bratislava.  Fortunately I was able to take two hours on Wednesday evening and take a walking journey through the streets of Bratislava to the castle that tops the high point of the city.  Below are some of the pictures of the castle and the city that I captured during my stroll through the city. 

 (Michael's Tower which is the only surviving gate/tower from Bratislava's original medieval town walls.)

 (There are many intricate carvings on the buildings of Bratislava's old city center.)

 (Michael's Tower was originally one of the gates into the city through the town's defensive wall.)

 (One of the many small streets/lanes in the old city center.)

 (Bratislava castle is home to the Slovakian National Museum.)

 (The Castle is an impressive large building.  However this current incarnation of the castle was only started in 1957.  The original castle was bombarded by Napoleon in 1809 and the remains were destroyed in a fire in 1811.  The castle sat in a state of ruin for the next 140 years before restoration began in the 1950's.)

 (View of the Danube from the castle.)

 (Statue of Svatopluk I in front of the castle)

 (Statue with the clouds and castle as a backdrop.)

 (Some of the fortification walls around the castle.)

 (View of the old city center from the castle fortification walls.)

(Interesting statue on the castle grounds.)

 (A church with castle high on the hill in the background.)

 (Clock tower in the city center.)

(A beautiful fountain lit with lights in the gathering dusk.)

My journey to Bratislava is almost over and though it has been interesting to see and experience this land I am much looking forward to arriving home and stepping back into my day-to-day life!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Zack - Harry Potter Boy

What kids do at school on a daily basis is normally a big mystery to their parents.  Millions of times each day a parent somewhere asks their child, "So what did you do at school today?"  Ninety-nine percent of the time the answer receive from the child is "nothing".  It's a rare event when a parent gets some real feedback on what their kid does at school.

The other day, I was lucky to receive some of that feedback when I looked in Zack's backpack and made him clean it out.  It was a mess!  There was a ton of papers in there that were obviously classwork that he had done at some point and then just stuffed into his backpack.  He has chosen never to use his assigned locker at school so everything ends up in his backpack.

He dumped everything out and then put the stuff he needed into the backpack.  A large pile of disorganized paper was left on the counter.  He sped off to to catch the bus and I sighed as I organized this pile of "garbage" so that he could go through it when he came home and pitch the stuff he really didn't need and take the rest to his room.

I came across a paper that he had written for his English class and it brought a smile to my face, so I decided that I had to post it here because it was interesting and it gave me a window into how he perceives himself.  (It was some kind of poetry assignment that was to detail something special about themselves from what I have been able to gather.)

Here's what Zack wrote:

Harry Potter Boy

I am Zack, Harry Potter Boy!
Due to some medical mumbo, jumbo of some sort or another,
I would have died if I was born on time.
I say it's mumbo, jumbo not because I don't care,
But they didn't didn't know what was wrong.
Medical Miracles even in 1998,
I survived by a process of induced birth!
My parents picked the day of my birth based on their favorite books by JK Rowling.
Thus I was born on July 31st
Year pass my mother dies...
But still...
I have a constant reminder of her love - my birthday.
I am Zack, Harry Potter Boy!