I jumped on this event the moment I learned of it. A GORUCK challenge on Omaha Beach, on the 70th anniversary of the landings. There was no way I could not do this.
We started at the Omaha Beach D Day monument, and were quickly shuffled out onto the beach to get us organized.
We had the usual starting procedures, roll call, gear check, etc. It went a little long with there being so many of us.
The one point of procedure that was not done at previous events: At the end of each set of PT, in honor of the Rangers that had given so much on this beach, we were to call out, “One for the Airborne Ranger in the sky!” and do one last rep. We were immediately given a set of pushups to start out with.
Every challenge, I have that one little point where my confidence is not quite where it should be. This time it was everyone talking about how cold the water was likely to be. Figuring for June weather, I had left my cold weather gear at home. As if on cue, at the end of that first set of pushups we were told to form one line at water’s edge and link arms.
Duck unders, followed by what I can only describe as burpees in 4 feet of water. The waves breaking over us also made this interesting. Cadre called out that some people were not fully submerging and that we would keep doing it until everyone got it right. I didn’t think I was the problem, but to be certain I did the next two chest-to-ground under the water.
We next stormed the beaches…
And split into four platoons. I ended up with first platoon. We then went through a quick training drill with each of the Cadre, covering individual movement, team movement, reaction to contact, and assaulting a bunker. One of my favorite memories from this:
Cadre: Get on line and put fire on the enemy!
Female teammate: PEW PEW PEW!!!!!
Cadre: What? There is no “pew pew” here! It is “bang bang”!
Me: BUDDAH BUDDAH BUDDAH!!!
We then moved out in formation, leaned the difference between rank and column formation, learned how to move in wedge formation, and checked out one of the remaining bunkers built into the side of a hill. Back to the beach, moving in wedge formation in the dark, responding to contact from various directions, usually doing it wrong, but getting better each time.
We moved down the beach to the memorials at two of the massive artillery bunkers.
We passed what remains of the American Mulberry Harbor.
And ran into this gentleman who gave us some additional history of what had happened here.
Moving toward Pointe Du Hoc, we came to a locked privacy fence that we were immediately ordered to go over. A local man with the combination happened by and opened it for us.
We then rucked a long way through narrow trails in wheat fields, through a reasonably intense storm with some of the brightest lightning I have ever seen.
Just as dawn broke, we reached Pointe Du Hoc, and then went down to the next protruding cliff to get a better view of exactly what scaling those cliffs required.
70 years later, the terrain still bears the marks of what happened here. We walked past numerous shell craters that you could fit a small house into.
We then moved back to a monument just inland and were given 10 minutes to tend to our feet. Then back in formation, feet up on the retaining wall, and crank out 25 pushups.
Down. 24. Down. 25. One for the boys at Pointe Du Hoc! One for the boys at Pointe Du Hoc! Down! One!
Moving back towards the beach using surface roads, moving to the side when cars approached. We covered part of the distance walking in the ditches where there was not a lot of room at roadside. It seemed appropriate, as these same ditches were likely used for cover as our forces moved inland.
We then cam to a historical camp/vehicle area at Omaha Beach, Dog Green Sector, where the phrase “Rangers lead the way” was born. Cadre pulled out a Willie’s Jeep, turned it off, and told us that we were pushing it around the camp.
25 rucktard power is an impressive amount of force. We got it up to speed, well ahead of our time hack, and Cadre hit the brakes, stopping it in the middle of a big mud puddle. Those in front pushing the jeep, those behind pushing those in front, back up to speed.
We moved in formation back to our start point, and were given one last challenge: Before 2nd platoon arrives, someone in this group must be able to name all the rest. Julie volunteers, we spend a few minutes running through roll call, and she absolutely nails it. Cadre then points at me and tells me to do the same.
My hit rate was on the order of 25%, but the effort was accepted, and we were finished.
But there is one final task that I needed to complete. 70 years ago, my great uncle, Joe Ryan, assaulted Omaha Beach and was killed some time later in the hedgerows. And a little bit of this event needed to be brought back to him.
We’d had challenge coins made for the occasion, that I carried with me though the Challenge before distributing them to the team. I found Joe’s tombstone, wiped off a touch of dirt from the base, and put down the coin.
A wave of emotion hit me, and I was tearing up as I stood and gave a quick salute.
Rest in peace, Joe. We remember.