THAT'S LAUDERDALE

D-Day: Are we still 'endowed with courage'?

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJune 5, 2014 

Don Bennett

SUBMITTED PHOTO

America should still take its marching orders from D-Day.

For years, Lowcountry veterans have told me what those marching orders might be.

I've been told that foxholes can, in fact, create atheists.

That we should never forget the Holocaust.

That the on-the-ground soldiers were simply following orders and praying to get home.

Just this week, Howard A. Brower, 91, sat in his beautiful home in Hilton Head Plantation and told me what it was like in the fuselage as he piloted a Douglas C-47 filled with paratroopers in the days following D-Day.

"They're sitting there quietly," he said. "Mostly smoking, praying, maybe making jokes. Anything to get their mind off what's coming up."

What was coming up for those kids, some right out of high school, was to risk everything for a cause greater than themselves.

Donald V. Bennett saw them take that risk 70 years ago today on Omaha Beach.

Today, we would be wise to take our marching orders from him.

Bennett was a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel commanding an artillery battalion when he landed in Normandy with the second wave. His unit experienced a 50 percent casualty rate as it helped the Allies establish a beachhead.

When he retired in 1974, Bennett was a four-star general. He and his wife, Bets, moved to Hilton Head Island the next day. Within weeks, he was a volunteer on a tractor, clearing land for the new hospital that was literally growing out of the ground.

To us, Bennett seemed "to stand 7-feet, 9-inches tall in his stocking feet," retired comedian Garry Moore said.

He was a community leader in many ways, and he wanted action.

He described a lot of what he saw around here as: "We're about to begin to start the initial phases of preliminary study to determine if further investigation should be carried out."

Bennett left the island 12 years later, seeking improved health for Bets. But before he died in 2005 and was buried at West Point, where he once flunked out and later became superintendent, Bennett left a memoir about war.

In "Honor Untarnished," he said wars should not be glorified.

Of the day he was told fighting would cease in Europe, which came at midnight on his 30th birthday, Bennett wrote: "There was no glory, only relief, only a wish to lay down our tools of death and to rest. I was never so old as I was on that night. All the years since then have been a gift."

Bennett's gift to us today comes in what he said sustained him on D-Day and beyond.

It was the "Cadet Prayer" he learned at West Point.

It's familiar to many, but on this day we should all consider it our call to arms. We should use it to gauge where America stands. And to ask ourselves this: Do we still, as a nation, have what it takes?

Here's a portion of the prayer:

"Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretense ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.

"Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service.

"Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.

Those are marching orders we'd do well to obey.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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