June 6Th, 1944

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©Robert C Burnham

June 6th 1944, a troop transport makes its way across the English Channel, ferrying its cargo of human soldiers to almost certain death.  The man at the helm, nineteen year old Everett Burnham is excited and terrified at the same time.  In preparation of this historic day he had visited a Marine tattoo artist a few days before and had a heart with the word ‘Mother’ emblazoned on his right bicep.  Tomorrow will be his twentieth birthday.  The few on board who know him make their passage up to the wheelhouse to wish him “Happy Birthday”.  They qualify their early greeting by saying they wanted to be among the first to offer their congratulations.  On another day, in another year, such explanation may have actually been true.  But on this day, it is not. 

In reality, the greetings come early because the men offering them know that they in all likelihood will not see the young helmsman ever again.  Once the transport approached the beaches of France, these men will voluntarily part ways with the ship, they will grab their gear, their rifles and jump into the churning waters of the channel.  As part of the first wave of an invasion, they will storm the shore.  They will die, so very many of them did.

Within sight of the German bunkers, the young helmsman watches the men, his cargo, being killed.  He can see their bodies going ‘belly-up’ and floating in the ship’s path.  Through the high-polished wood of the helm, he can feel the propellers slicing through the mass of bodies, tearing them, grinding them.  The young Seaman First Class is horrified.  This expression of horror on his young helmsman’s face does not go unnoticed by the ships’ wise and compassionate skipper.  The captain crosses the bridge and placing a solitary hand on my dad’s shoulder whispers, “It is okay, Mr. Burnham, stand tall, the bodies you are sailing over are already dead, their souls have already left for greener pastures.  By their deaths we will close out this war; we will close out this war and we will go home!”  I cannot tell you if that captain ever made it back home but my father did.  Yes, my father came home and until his death in 1999, he never forgot the ones who didn’t.

In 1995 I penned the original version of the poem you are about to read.  I updated it in 1999 just about the time my father passed.  He told me that I pretty well covered the entire war in these few lines:



Fifty some odd years ago a tyrant crawled from under a rock

With a deceitful tongue, he enticed people with the way he talked

He fired up his nation by declaring, “on top is our rightful place”

Better than ordinary souls – they were to be “the Master Race”

World domination; Power by fear

Intimidation and Oppression comprised their master plan

Following the small coward, they first attacked the Jews

Telling the rest of the world not to worry “because its not you”

Speeches and propaganda pushed the swastika to power

And six million Jews were marched into the fiery shower

Their voices cried out to their God in distress

The rest of Europe heard and donned their battle dress

The Russians, France, and the “Brits”; all valiant souls

Joined forces to fight this “unbeatable” foe

Their odds were slim, their casualties were great

For a while it looked as though Hitler would have his grand fate

Across the sea, America watched but tried to ignore

What to many Americans seemed a “European war”

But then Japan chose lots with the mustached devil

And with brutality and deceit, Pearl Harbor was disheveled

Americans were shocked and shaken on that “Day of Infamy”

They woke up, their eyes had opened, they would fight for you and me

Fathers left home as mothers held back tears

Little girls entered the factories despite all their fears

“Rosie the Riveter” built the ships and the mighty guns

That her daddy needed to fight the barbaric Huns

And all of a sudden that little “European” war

Had come a knocking on America’s door

Brave men sailed across the Atlantic to join the Allied’s stand

Other men island-hopped the pacific where there wasn’t much land

There was fighting in Africa, blood stained the Sahara

Rommel was the enemy dealing out death and terror

U-Boats off the east coast, stacked bodies in Stalingrad

The death march in Bataan, seemed the whole world had gone mad

Called into fighting by evil, hypocrisy, and greed

Surely the turmoil even caused God in Heaven to bleed

For many months the allies struggle just to stay alive

While three different men had to set their differences aside

Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt too, could not afford to wait

Unsung heroes of all nations, were dying each minute of debate

As the storm grew darkest and faith wore paper thin

Praise God that the allies found the power from within

They would attack from across the channel and reclaim France’s shores

The Russians from the east, cold and starving, would make a stand once more

In the Pacific, on little Iwo Jima, the US flag flew high

And at the ‘Battle of Midway’ there was a turning of the tide

Men were still dying, their blood flowing free

But no longer in vain; there was now a sense of victory

Hitler and Germany were the first to crack

They scrambled in awe as the allies broke their armored back

Into their bunkers they ran like scattering hounds

As the bombs from England could be felt all around

“Paris Liberated”, the bold headlines screamed

Throughout that war-torn nation people again had a chance to dream

“Freedom” and “Hope” were the buzzwords that day

As the Allies accepted the Nazi’s defeat with no more delay

Berlinwould be divided – just a spoil of war

Russiaclaiming the east, a wall built without doors

Then all the attention was turned to the skies over Japan

Under God’s eyes all watched the extreme cruelty between man

Today people still ask the question: “Was it justified ?”

Hiroshimaand Nagasaki disappearing in the blink of an eye

The ending of the ultimate war, with the ultimate rage

The opening of Pandora’s Box bringing in the Atomic Age

When the tally was done and the living buried their dead

Millions upon millions had perished the newspapers said

Life’s lessons are expensive; but this one was way too high

Let’s keep the hope that this lesson was learned by all mankind

World war II now lives in history books and on late night TV

John Wayne looks good as he brings the Nazis to their knees

But we need to remember for our children’s sake

That our fathers did fall and the Earth did shake

Because of all their sacrifice, this poem has no end

The story must be told to our children, again and again… 


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