Last Wednesday—June 6th—we didn’t watch The Longest Day, as we sometimes do, but my husband and I talked about the landing and what establishing beachheads on Gold, Sword, Juno, Omaha, and Normandy beaches meant.
I might have a tenuous connection to the landing. When I was in high school, the principal boasted that some of the planning sessions for the D-Day landing were held in our school auditorium. I’m dubious, but it made a nice story.
My husband knows an even better story. A U.S. Naval officer reported for duty in England, and needing to find him something to do, his commanding officer had him driven to a secret location. Military Police verified his identification and then locked him in a room with hundreds of binders. Every day he read binders for hours on end and at the end of each day, he’d pound on the door and the Military Police would let him out.
That room contained the entire plan for Operation Overlord, which had been drawn up by hundreds of people, some of them possibly in the same auditorium where I sat every Wednesday morning for general assembly.
The officer’s job was to find what everyone else had missed, the one overlooked thing that could cause the invasion to fail. He found it.
One thing that the planners had correctly assumed was that after the initial invasion, the beaches would be in ruins. Artificial docks would be needed to provide a place for supply ships to land. Concrete docks were built in England and then sunk. What better place to hide them than underwater?
Once the invasion had succeeded, the water would be pumped out of the docks, they would pop to the surface, ready to be towed across the English Channel.
The problem the officer discovered was that the pumps intended to drain and raise those docks were nowhere near strong enough to do the job. Someone had confused two types of marine pumps and selected the wrong one. The officer, having worked in marine salvage before the war, spotted this right off. The problem was, he couldn’t get anyone in the chain of command to listen to him.
After futile, frustrating attempts to get senior officers to realize that the invasion was headed for disaster, as a last resort, he took a piece of paper from his wallet and called the phone number written there.
Back in World War I, this officer had been seconded to the British Navy and had become friends with a British Naval officer called Bertie. Bertie had given the officer his home phone number and told him if he was ever back in England, to look him up. In the intervening years, Bertie had become George VI, By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith.
The phone number in his wallet was for Buckingham Palace. Within a few minutes the officer was talking to someone who did listen and who promptly set in motion getting the right pumps. The rest, as they say, is history.
Serendipitously, I came across the following quote a couple of days before the D-Day anniversary.
As artists we must work to express our inner imperatives and not just filling the form provided by the marketplace. Integrity comes from the root word integer, meaning whole, unfragmented by doubt or discomfort. A positive list [about why we are a writer] goes a long way toward establishing a beachhead of integrity.
~Julia Cameron, Walking in This World
I fell in love with the phrase establishing a beachhead of integrity. A writing career means establishing a series of beachheads. It’s what each of us does when she makes the decision to turn pro. It’s what we do when we move to a new publisher, or establish ourselves in a new genre, or commit to a new way of publishing. We might be hanging on by our fingernails, but by golly we’re in this writing thing for keeps and we intend to stay here.
One of the nicest things about being part of the mystery community is that other writers are willing to help us get off the beach once we’ve landed. I’ve heard, “How can I help”? far more than, “Go away and don’t bother me.” That to me is integrity.
Military factoid for the week:
Men who were U. S. military nurses went ashore on June 6, 1944 with the initial landing. Female nurses waded ashore with the 91st and 128th Evacuation Hospitals on July 10, 1944. A memorial plaque to those two hospitals was unveiled last week, on June 8, 2012, in Boutteville, Normandy. Link to the article about the plaque. At the bottom of that short article is another link to some still photos and training films made during World War II about the operation of evacuation hospitals.