You never really understood why you joined the army. Not then, as you eagerly signed up with all of your other foolish friends, and not now, as you sit on the shore of a bloody beach, tarnished by disaster and loss.
You remember reading adventure novels about bold heroes who were stuck in situations like yours, but of course, you fail to recall how they survived. Your mother always said how clever you were, how easy it was for you to talk your way out of unfortunate circumstances. If only she could see you now; stranded, awaiting help, or rather, a miracle, that would never arrive.
There are lines, dozens of them, with hundreds of soliders each, spilling into tiny sailboats that wield hope and promise for about twenty minutes before a fighter pilot comes along and obliterates them. You had gotten on three different ones, all of which sank, before surrendering to a feeling you could only describe as “devastation” and collapsing onto the hot sand.
France had been your dream. You would look at photographs in newspapers, frozen moments in time, of people in France. It was a country made of smiles and love and laughter. Paris, the city of lights, was now darker than ever; once filled to the brim with passion and art, overflowing with music and dancing and parties like bubbly champagne in a glass, now empty. Lost.
You never got to see it, and you likely never will. With every wave that rolls in and every boat that sinks, you draw further and further into yourself, until you doubt there is anything left. And it’s not like you hadn’t tried, hadn’t given up every bit of strength you had into escaping. You did. But nothing worked.
This stupid beach, this symbol of chaos and destruction that is practically shouting, “War!” is your only chance. These bloody seagulls crying above you are practically screaming, "You're doomed! Give up!" The leaflets that appear out of nowhere and fall at your feet, covered in drawings by the Germans, are statistics informing you that even science knows how low your odds of surviving are.
There are three different forces at work, all of which are failing. The pilots are outnumbered and fighting for their own lives, much less worrying about the thousands of soldiers below. The ships are bustling around, loading hundreds at most, only to sink and crash into the dock, killing more than they attempted to save. There are civilian sailboats on their way, but they won’t arrive for hours, maybe days.
It took you many long hours, several defeats, and a few near-death experiences to accept it, but essentially, there is no hope whatsoever.
Your best mate, Henry, still refuses to believe it. A scrawny, optimistic boy, he grins at anything remotely joyful and scoffs at your cynical, but realistic views.
“Why give up when there’s still a chance?” He asks you, absentmindedly digging into the sand with his left hand.
“Because there isn’t,” you protest. “Haven’t we seen enough, been through enough?” He shakes his head as his hand burrows a hole the size of his fist into the ground.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” he replies, his lips tugging up slightly as he pulls a shiny shell out of the hole. “You never know what miracles can arise, even in hopelessly dark places.” He waves the shell in your face.
“Yeah, well, I never said the beach wasn’t bright,” you respond, ignoring his deadpan look. It is a beautiful beach, you have to admit. The waves look like something out of a dream as they crash onto the shore, the foam bubbling at their edges. The sun is covered by a cloud, but it beats through mercilessly, blinding you nonetheless. If it wasn’t for the air of defeat and lack of promise looming over your heads, it would have been paradise at its finest.
“You know that’s not what I meant,” Henry says. “I know this isn’t the end. It can’t be! Not after everything. Not after hiking through valleys and fields just to get here, after boarding ships only to end up swimming back to the shore, after ducking to avoid being hit by bombs. It’s not the end. I won’t let it be.”
“Sorry, mate, but I think this one’s out of your hands,” you inform him, lying down and stretching your legs.
“You should get some sleep,” says Henry. “I’ll wake you if something happens.”
You know that sleeping is not an option, and you know Henry knows sleeping is not an option. It would start with a calm, relaxed feeling washing over you as you close your eyes and slip away, and end in heartpounding screams, horrible resurfacing memories, and snapping your eyes open in a cold sweat.
But you do it anyways, ignoring the voice in the back of your head that is cautioning you, warning you against it. You close your eyes and shift your body to a more comfortable position, trying to think of your family back home. You think of causing trouble with your mates at school, finishing homework assignments minutes before they’re due, taking walks in the rain with your sister, your first kiss with the first girl you ever loved.
You don’t know how long you slept; it could have been seconds, minutes, or hours, but you know, the moment you wake up, that something is not right.
Henry, bright, happy-go-lucky Henry, is sheet-white with terror, staring at something behind you. The soldiers in the lines are unmoving, as though frozen in shock. There are newly-arrived civilian boats behind them, and you are about to raise your voice and point them out, but Henry shakes his head in one quick motion.
You scrunch your eyebrows in confusion. Seagulls are flying in circles above you, an omen of great loss and disaster. It feels as though someone took a photograph of this very moment, stilling it forever.
Through his teeth, Henry mutters, “Turn around, very, very slowly.” Fear overtakes your body, beads of sweat forming on the back of your neck. You turn around, your heart rate multiplying as you see the scene laid out in front of you.
There are thousands, maybe millions of German soldiers, standing with their guns pointed at you. The sound of fighter planes coming from a distance fills your ears, and you don’t have to look behind you to see the German Navy boats veering swiftly towards the dock.
Besides the crashing of the waves and the seagulls jeering above, the entire beach, though filled with millions, is completely silent. Then, a whisper.
“Où sommes-nous?” A young soldier, who you hardly even noticed was sitting next to you, asked. You spoke very little French, only the small amount that was required at school, but you understood what he said.
“Where are we?” He had asked.
Henry looked at you in fear.
The German soldiers aimed their guns.
You whisper one word.
And then, in an instant, before you could say anything else; a goodbye to Henry, a comforting word to the wide-eyed French soldier, an “I love you,” to your family, though you know they have no chance of hearing it, the whole beach disappears.
In the second you have before it all fades away, you think of your father’s memories from the Great War. He would always say, with ghosts in his eyes, that even if you’re unlucky enough to survive war, you live with it forever.
“Live with what?” Your younger sister would ask.
“Death,” he would reply. “Death becomes you.”
You exhale sharply.
And just like that, it happens exactly as he said: death becomes you.
June 4, 1940: 400,000 BRITISH SOLDIERS WIPED OUT AT DUNKIRK! After days of failed evacuation attempts, German soldiers slaughter the entire army at Dunkirk. The United Kingdom and France are devastated by this loss. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, however, is still optimistic: “We shall fight on the beaches!” He declares! (full speech enclosed on page 7)
October 31, 1940: BRITAIN VICTORIOUS IN BATTLE OF BRITAIN! They’re calling it the Miracle of Britain, due to the clear fact that no one saw it coming. After losing nearly half a million soldiers in Dunkirk, British and French troops joined forces quicker than ever, making an even larger army, navy, and air force than before. Adolf Hitler to postpone invasion plans, giving the United Kingdom more time to strategize their next move. The Battle of Britain is sure to go down in history critical victory in Britain’s favor! (more details on page 5)
February 2, 1943: GERMANY DEVASTATED AT BATTLE OF STALINGRAD! Largest ever confrontation in the war as of yet, the Soviet Union defeats Germany and its allies and keeps Stalingrad after months of fighting. A key turning point in Germany’s tirade! (article continued on page 3)
June 6, 1944: SUCCESS AT NORMANDY! Nearly two years after the disaster at Dunkirk, the Allies successfully invade France! The beach landings, nicknamed Operation Overlord and “D-Day” are an astounding success on the Allies’ behalf. (further information on page 6)
August 25, 1944: PARIS FREE! Under German control for years, the capital city of France was finally surrendered after six days of fighting! The Allies are making tremendous progress! (explanations on how this could be beneficial to the Allies on page 4)
January 27, 1945: AUSCHWITZ LIBERATED! Soviets free thousands trapped in the horrendous concentration camp! (more details on Auschwitz on page 2)
April 30, 1945: HITLER AND WIFE, EVA BRAUN, DEAD! Suicide took place in an air-raid shelter! After swallowing cyanide, the hated German dictator shot himself! (more details on page 8)
May 7, 1945: GERMANY SURRENDERS! THE ALLIES HAVE WON THE WAR!
“Death becomes you,” your father would say. You and your sister would watch him as he sat silently, remembering.
“How do you get through it?” You would ask quietly.
A shadow of a smile would cross over your father’s worn, tired face. “Hope,” he would answer. “Hope.”