By Christopher Avgiris
The sound of the rain was deafening as it pelted off our metal helmets and the steel sides of our Higgins boat. Our breath could be seen in small clouds as the cold came over us. The smell of urine and vomit was sickening as I dodged streams of piss coming towards my standard- issue army combat boots. The feeling was uneasy; we saw the bombs and gunfire light up the sky like fireworks on the Fourth. It looked like a lightning storm, the way the sky lit up with every explosion. As we moved forward, we were close enough to hear the screams of our dying brethren. The terrifying groans grew louder, and some in the boat were praying, others were producing the vomit and urine mixture on the deck of our boat. We all knew the time would soon come; the time when we’d take the beach.
“Move fast and swift! And for Christ’s sake, keep your fuckin’ heads down,” reminded Captain John Savage.
“Hey, Cap, what’s our rallying point?” asked Tex.
“We make our way up the beach and meet at the church behind the Nazi barricade. Remember, our goal is to advance up the beach and make an attempt at the German stronghold, not to waste our bullets on long shots!”
I looked around the boat and saw fear. I saw fear in the eyes of young boys called upon by their country to serve, myself among them. I wasn’t afraid; it was just nerves. To try and get an eye on what’s going on out there, I peeked over the side of the boat. I’ve never moved so quickly as I whipped my head down away from the MG42 gunfire that was now concentrated on our boat.
“Keep your goddamn head down, Hercules! Jesus Christ!” screamed Zollo as he smacked me upside the head.
I got the nickname Hercules after I took out a group of eight Nazi bastards by myself back in Poland, my Greek background to its appropriateness. I was a good, strong, machine-like soldier meant to kill Germans. Uneasiness always took me over minutes before a battle, but when it was time to go, I was ready.
The bullets hit the sides of our boat like a hammer pounding the head of a nail. The boat’s walls dented as the projectiles tried to penetrate the vessel. Luckily they couldn’t get all the way through.
“Waste them bullets, Gerry!”
Oh fuck. Here we go, Kostas. It’s almost time.
“Anyone got a smoke?” I asked
“Here ya go.” An outstretched arm handed me a Marlboro.
“Thanks. I need to calm my nerves.”
“Smoke it quick; we land in a couple minutes.”
After putting out my cigarette, I quickly bowed my head and recited the Lord’s Prayer in Greek. Crossing myself and kissing my silver cross I received at my baptism were necessities each time I was about to face the enemy. As I stuffed my cross and dog tags back in my shirt, I heard the Captain tell us:
“Gentleman, it has been a pleasure to serve beside you. Not all of you are going to walk away today, and some of you are going to die. But remember what you’re here for. You’re fighting for your family and the freedom of others. Once we get through today, it’s not long ‘til we get that big boat home. Be smart out there, stick together, and for God’s sake, keep your damn heads down! You’re fighting for the red, white, and blue, ladies. Fuck those Nazi bastards! They may be good fighters, but we have something they don’t—heart!”
As soon as the Cap finished his last word, there was an eerie silence. We all had a feeling that all hell was about to break loose. The front of the boat swung open, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. MG42 gunfire sprayed the boat and took out our entire first line. A constant stream of death was coming in faster than my 1938 Buick Roadmaster back home. Excruciating and painful screams filled the air along with the constant spray of blood that had now turned my face a dark, deadly red. We were in it now, and there was no turning back.
Here we go.
Sergeant Caputo ordered, “Into the water!”
I jumped over the side of the boat and into the bloody murk filled with fallen soldiers. Never have I seen so much death. It was a struggle to keep my head above water as my BAR machine gun tried to drown me. It was like when my brother used to dunk my head in the pool. Water rushing in and out of my ears made it impossible to hear Cap’s orders.
“Get to the beach and take cover!”
Climbing over thousands of dead bodies nearly brought me to vomit. I went under again, tripping over a body, and this time I took a gulp of bloody ocean water with me. Somehow I managed to keep the stomach bile down. The sting of the salt water mixed with blood in my eyes made it impossible to see. The beach was close; I had to push on.
Come on, Kostas, just a little further.
Crawling out of the water and onto the beach, I ripped the protective plastic cover off my gun. I found myself standing there in a gaze I couldn’t seem to snap out of. I looked around at a beach of death. The sand had turned a dark red from being covered with bleeding bodies, a sight I never wanted to see. As I came to my feet, I was in wobbly daze, almost like being drunk.
“Hercules! Get down!”
I faintly heard my platoon screaming for me to take cover, but the gunfire and grenade explosions drowned them out.
“Hercules! Get the fuck down!”
My hearing began to come back as I bent down to pick up my rifle. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a standard German issue grenade roll within five feet of me. I suddenly came to and ran as fast as I could.
The grenade detonated but I wasn’t yet far enough away to be completely safe. The blast took me off my feet and threw me to my knees some ten feet away. Quickly taking cover behind a pile of American bodies, I composed myself.
Come on, Kostas. You’re better than this. Get your shit together.
Finally on my feet, I made my way to my company farther up the beach. Running, ducking, weaving, and keeping my head down, I took cover behind anything that would stop a bullet. American soldiers were falling left and right from the Nazi gunfire. Streams of blood were cascading down the beach. Screams were being heard from everywhere as I looked around and saw an American soldier hopping up the beach holding his right leg.
Duck yelled, “Hercules!”
I turned to the calling of my name to see a sight for sore eyes. One of my fellow company-men was just a few yards ahead taking cover behind a German anti-tank barricade. Making my way towards Duck, who got his nickname because of the way he walked, I tripped and was lying on the beach, vulnerable, away from cover. He quickly stood up and pulled me to cover by the strings on my pack.
“You’re a life saver,” I said.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re the one doin’ the saving usually.”
“I don’t know. My head is so far up my ass I can’t breathe.”
“Well, let’s go. What’s our plan,” he asked frantically.
I turned to survey the beach and see what our next move was going to be.
“All right, I see Cap and the rest of ‘em. We have to get there fast and we gotta keep our heads down.”
I waited for a reply and got nothing. I kept looking up the beach.
“You hear me, Duck?”
I turned around and saw he had taken a bullet in the head. The blood poured out of the hole in his head like water out of a faucet. We had gone through training together, and he was my best friend here. I couldn’t help but scream in a furious rage as the thought of my friend being dead..I can’t stay here with him.
I had to move. I was a sitting…duck there. After I ripped off Duck’s dog tags, I picked up my BAR and ran towards the Cap.
It was like crossing the finish line in a race; I dove for the sand dune and took cover with the rest of my company.
“Hercules here sir!”
“It’s about goddamn time. Where’s Duck?”
I looked at Captain Savage and shook my head as I was still dealing with the death of my good friend. He stuck his head down in the sand and let out a scream just as I did. We all liked Duck; he was a good soldier. His death motivated us to take the beach and gave us some fire.
McShane hollered, “What’s the fuckin’ plan sir?”
“Calm the hell down, you dirty mick bastard,” Sergeant Caputo fired back.
We all began to look around and wait anxiously for our next orders. I was thinking of a way to stop the machine gun fire for just a second in order to get us over the dune to the base of the barricade where we would be out of Nazi range.
One of our tanks finally made the beach and knocked out the Nazi barricade. Germans began to pour out of the formerly tiny opening the Nazis used to slaughter us. Most were unarmed and ripe for the picking. Some of them were on fire.
Cap said, “Let those Nazi fucks burn!”
We stormed over the hill shooting and ending any hopes of German life.
“Cease fire! Cease fire,” ordered the Cap.
We did it. We had taken the beach. It was ours. After all that death, we made it. We could take a breath of air and let out a sigh of relief.
“Fuck, I’m tired,” said Corporal Watson as we all sat down.
“I hear ya. A cold one would be great right about now,” agreed the Sarge.
“Damn, I could use a Pat’s cheesesteak,” I added.
“Is that that garbage sandwich you always talk about from back in Philly?” asked the Sarge.
“Garbage? That’s disrespectful. That thing is a staple back home.”
“Man, if you want a good sangwich, ya gotta go to one of the delis in New York,” chimed in Brooklyn.
It was good to finally be off our feet. The beach had taken hours to take and we were all exhausted. In hopes of getting some rest, I took my boots off and tried to dry my socks. “Dry feet makes a better soldier,” the cap always says.
I lit a cigarette and tried to take my mind off the war. I started to think of my girl Maria back home. We’d been together since sophomore year of high school, but it wasn’t love. I hadn’t felt love yet. As soon as I started to get some rest, I saw the Captain coming up shuffling some papers.
“Stop daydreaming about your gal, Hercules! It’s time to move again.”
“Sorry Cap’n Savage. I’m all ears.”
“As soon as McShane is done wrapping up Brooklyn’s leg, we gotta move. Our orders are to move to a small town about four clicks from here. Apparently there are no Germans occupying it, but we have to stay alert. We’re going there to retrieve some sort of device that helps decipher Nazi code. This is an important mission and we have to move now. Let’s go boys.”
To the chagrin of the company, we got our packs and guns and started to head out.
The decimated village was depressing. Burned cars and crumbling houses were the only things left of what once was a beautiful small town in France. We hated to see things like this; all we could think about is what if this was our home towns?
“Look what this bastard Hitler is doing,” said the Sarge angrily.
“We have to take this piece of shit…”
“Take cover,” I screamed.
Before McShane could finish his thought, a single gunshot hit him in the side of the neck. It sounded like it came from a distance.
God dammit! Another one down! We’re dropping like flies. I knew it was too quiet here.
“Sniper. Stay down.” I whispered.
This was Johnson’s time to shine. We figured the shot came from the clock tower at the end of the street. Johnson found a good spot behind a car with all its windows blown out. Before we knew it, the Nazi sniper’s body was seen falling from the roof of the clock tower.
“All clear. Lets move.”
There was an abandoned half-fallen-down hotel on the left side of the main street in the town. Approaching the hotel doors, I began to get that strange nervous feeling I always felt before a new battle.
We moved through the building quietly and smart. Room after room was clear. Thank God, it was only a ten-room hotel with only three floors. The first two floors were clear. As we made our way up the stairs to the third floor, we heard a loud shriek from a woman. Eclipsing the Bangalore’s thunderous bang, her scream sent chills down my spine. We knew something wasn’t right. All the roomss’ doors had been opened and were clear but one. Cap signaled me to take the lead and kick the door down. Fear started to take over my mind and body, but I knew something had to be done.
What could be behind this door? Hopefully my boys have my back. Today is not the day I die.
With one heavy kick my standard army issue size-twelve boot collapsed that door like it was made of plywood. None of us were ready for what we were about to see.
“What the fuck,” muttered Brooklyn.
Three unarmed Nazis were standing around shirtless. A beautiful, young, and beaten French girl lay on a tattered bed crying. We all knew what was going on, and we were disgusted. Before we could assist the poor girl, we pointed our weapons at the German rapists. They surrendered, but we didn’t care. We took them out anyway. We all felt as if we did something right to bring that girl some justice.
“Do you speak English,” I asked her.
“What’s your name?”
“Adrienne,” she replied with such a sweet sounding French accent.
“We’re not here to hurt you; we want to help you. Come with us. We have food and water.”
“Ya can’t bring her with us, Hercules,” said the Cap.
“C’mon, Cap’n, we can’t just leave her here,” argued Tex.
“All right, Hercules, you take care of her, and if she gets one of us killed…, so help me God, I’ll fuckin’ shoot you myself.
She was one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen. Her long brown hair and bright green eyes hid a glamour. Her legs went on for miles and her breasts complemented her perfectly toned body. I quickly forgot about Maria and was completely fixated on this goddess. I felt like I was in love.
“Damn this bitch is heavy,” said Brooklyn. It was his turn to carry the device.
“Quit your whinin’, puppy boy, and just carry the damn thing,” said Cap.
We started our march towards Breteuil, the small town where the General was stationed, in order to hand over the intelligence. It was going to take us a day or so to reach it.
As everyone on the company was talking with one another about life back home and the war, I couldn’t help but think about Adrienne. I was kind of nervous about talking to her, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her. We were walking together in the back of the group, she in front of me and my eyes fixated on her.
“What’s your name,” I heard her ask.
“Kostas. Kostas Nikolopoulos. Adrienne, right?”
“Yes. Nikiloloupops,” she said, butchering my name.
I chuckled and said, “It’s OK. I can’t even pronounce it. You can just call me Kostas, Adrienne.”
I just wanted to speak her name; it was as beautiful as she was.
Am I not some big killing machine? I think I’m falling for this girl.
She told me about the day the Germans came. She was sitting at the kitchen table eating leek soup when the gunfire startled her so much she fell out of her seat and spilled her soup. Her mother and father were murdered as they fought for their children’s lives. While hiding in the bedroom, Adrienne put her younger sisters in the safe room under the bed.
She was the bravest person I’ve ever met. She made me look like a child.
Knowing her parents were gone, she did the only thing she could do—protect her sisters. She heard the Germans searching the house as the youngest sister made it to the cellar. There was no time for her to get into the safe room below the bed, so she concealed its door and hid in the closet, knowing the Nazis would find her first. The Germans’ footsteps grew closer, and she knew what was about to happen. They swung the door open and grabbed her. Her screams didn’t affect them; they didn’t think anything was wrong. Dragging this pour helpless girl through the ravaged town was commonplace for them. Once they had taken her to the hotel, her story stopped.
“You don’t have to tell me anymore. I understand.”
We were walking through a vacant field. There was silence all around us. The rain had finally stopped, but the cold lingered. The wind blew through the tall grass like a chilled summer breeze. The sun was close to setting in the west corner of the field.
“Let’s get the fuck outta this field,” said Tex.
“Amen. We’re sittin’ ducks here,” said Sarge.
Something doesn’t feel right.
Before I could finish my next step, gunfire came straight at us. We had no time to react.
“Get down,” Sarge screamed.
I took cover as soon as I saw that Adrienne was safe, covered by the weeds. I looked around and saw Sergeant catching a bullet between his eyes.
“The Sarge is down,” I screamed in horror.
“Contacts north,” someone screamed.
We returned fire, but we couldn’t see the enemy. They were hiding in the woods ahead. I ripped the pin off my grenade with my teeth and hurled it towards the dark abyss that was the forest. As the black wooded area lit up with the explosion of my grenade, I saw two Germans fly.
“I got two of those bastards,” I yelled.
Watson fell dead beside me.
It was all happening so fast.
“We gotta move sir,” I yelled.
“We got nowhere to” Tex began to say before taking a bullet in his chest. Blood was gushing everywhere. It was an ambush. I looked around and the only remaining soldiers were Cap, Brooklyn, and myself. Adrienne was safely curled up in a ball behind me, covering her ears. I checked on her every few seconds.
“Stay down,” I told her. “We’re gonna be alright. I’ll get you to safety.”
As I turned back to the gunfight, I took a Nazi bullet in the shoulder.
“I’m hit! I’m hit!” I yelled.
I never felt such pain. It was like a car hit me in the shoulder. But I couldn’t let the pain slow me down. We had to get to safety.
“What are ya thinkin’, Cap’n,” asked Brooklyn.
“We give covering fire and head for the woods to the right.”
The four of us stood up, and we fired while running. We headed for the forest, which seemed miles away. We were all in a straight line across, running as if we were in the Olympics and the tree line was our finish. I held onto Adrienne’s hand tightly as we ran.
Another bullet hit me above the knee. Next thing you know, the Captain was down. He was gone. The three of us remained, and I was unable to walk.
This wasn’t happening. Was this it?
Brooklyn and Adrienne came to my aid and helped me walk. We couldn’t sit there and wait to be killed; we had to move. Brooklyn threw a grenade into the woods and took out a group of Nazis.
“Nice toss,” I said.
I felt the support on my left give out. That was Adrienne’s side. She had been shot twice in the chest.
We all fell to the ground. Her helpless face left me empty inside.
“This is all my fault,” I said.
“No, my love. Don’t think like that,” she said.
I did everything I could to stop the bleeding to try to prolong her life. She was slipping away. The blood was too much.
“Don’t leave me,” I screamed.
“Adrienne! I love you!”
It was too late. Those were her last words. The girl I saved from the ruthless Germans had died trying to help me.
The gunfire grew louder as Brooklyn pointed out allied forces starting to target the Nazis. One by one, the Nazis began to fall and soon they could do no more damage.
“We’re gonna be OK,” said Brooklyn, breathing a sigh of relief.
I looked down at the innocent girl lying dead in the French field. She could have been saved. This would have never happened if I had just left her in that hotel. I had started to care for her and get to know her, but I would never get to learn more about the beauty she was. I wanted to make her dreams come true and bring her to the United States, show her the Statue of Liberty, and share a cheesesteak with her. I wanted to marry this girl and spend the rest of my life with her. It was crazy to think like that, but I knew. It was a feeling I’d never felt before. She was the love of my life, and I have never forgotten her.