I know you’ve all seen it, this 2 second clip of black and white film taken on D-day; June 6th, 1944. You’ve probably watched it so many times that it’s just background to the bigger story of the invasion, and that’s certainly how this quick piece of film is used; 2 seconds of film showing G.I.s storming the beach. I’m not even sure which beach.
To me, this film clip has become like a song I heard a million times without actually thinking about it, and I never listened to the lyrics until that million and first time when I suddenly heard them. All these times I watched this short bit of film and watched these soldiers storm this beach from the water’s edge, always the same guys, always the same beach. And one day I realized that this one guy – this same one guy, among the others storming the beach – he falls down, shot. Maybe dead. We don’t know, but he lies very still for that one moment, and then the story moves on, the editor always moving on to the next scene perhaps a second later.
Over time, I’ve wondered about him. Did he live or die? Does anyone know who he was? Did his family ever see this bit of film and know it was him? Which beach was he on? What unit did he belong to? Is this information buried somewhere in the military archives? It must be.
I swear I’ve seen this bit of film in every documentary I’ve ever watched about D-day for about 60 years. As stock footage, it’s been in an uncountable number of movies about the war. Always the same 2 second bit of film. It’s that iconic.
This Veterans Day there are a lot of stories about the last surviving soldiers from that war, and that reminded me of him again. Perhaps America’s most famous unknown soldier.
The YouTube link below is just one of many which include this moment of D-day. It’s so common that I found two videos with it in about 10 minutes. It only took that long because I had to watch 3 videos to find a version I thought would tell the story adequately. I’ve made two screen captures from the video. I’ve circled him in red; the first as he leaves the surf, and the second when he falls on the sand. Watch the video, think of all the times you’ve watched these moments and wonder who he was; one of thousands who fell, but anonymously immortalized.
So tell me, is this America’s most famous unknown soldier of World War 2?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwubLZ1bkAA at 01m19s.