What We Owe PFC Richard Frank Geigner

I’m trying to capture what I saw and felt in Normandy this past weekend and I’m having a hard time with it, because mere words and pictures don’t do it justice. I’m just so thankful that I had the chance to go and physically be there to see what our guys experienced and to see the crosses in the American cemetery there on that quiet, peaceful bluff situated two hundred feet above the English Channel.

The emotional impact is both a humbling and embarrassing experience – humbling because of what those men gave of themselves and embarrassing that we are working to give away what they paid such a terrible price to secure for us…I simply cannot imagine the sense of duty and courage it took for those waves of 73,000 American men to storm onto those beaches, then to run headlong across the sand and up those dunes and cliffs toward what surely had to be a maelstrom of lead, steel and exploding ordnance, all hoping for God’s protection but many knowing that they would never leave those beaches alive.

And still they ran toward the enemy.

Many of those crosses were inscribed with a date of June 6, 1944. These were for the young men who never made it off those beaches, men (boys actually) like Private First Class Richard Frank Geigner from Cook County, Illinois. Pfc. Geigner was a member of the 298th Engineer Combat Battalion that was part of the first wave on the beaches with the responsibility of destroying obstacles so that the men and materiel behind him could move faster.

And yet PFC Geigner ran toward the enemy.

For the past week now, I haven’t been able to write more than half a page without stopping due to experiencing equal measures of pride, guilt, anger and determination and not knowing what to do with those feelings.

We owe these men and the families that they left behind. We owe them a debt that cannot be repaid in money or treasure.

We owe it to them to run toward the enemy.

The enemy today is any ideology that compromises the freedom for which a young PFC gave the last full measure of his life on a beach in France over 68 years ago.

Our enemy today doesn’t wear a uniform – yet it is just a deadly.

Our enemy has many faces – complacency, sloth, intellectual laziness, and disregard for natural law.

Cowardice.

In a quote sometimes attributed to Thomas Jefferson (among others), we learn a universal truth:

The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance.

We should not give up so easily what was won with so much difficulty.

We dishonor those men who are buried in the peace of foreign soil, those men who fought not for land or dominion over others but for freeing those lands from the dominion of others. In the words of General Mark W. Clark, words inscribed on the wall of the museum at the American Cemetery at St. Laurent:

“If ever proof were needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest: all we asked was enough soil in which to bury our gallant dead.”

Wars are not won by “leading from behind.”

Wars are not won in retreat.

We must run toward the enemy.

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “What We Owe PFC Richard Frank Geigner

  1. We owe it to them to be:

    Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful)…to the principles and ideals for which they died.

    Mike.

    For what it’s worth, the only way I found to deal with what you’re feeling was to resolve not to be the one who gave up on the greater battle and allowed the dream these men and women died for to die along with them. That’s what most Marines I knew meant when they said:

    “NOT ON MY WATCH!”

    But be warned: there is a price to be paid if you say those words and mean them…

    • Black:

      I was finished a book on one of my plane rides a while back, it was a book called Unbroken. It was the story of three US airmen who survived a bomber crash, having their life raft strafed by a Japanese plane, sharks and a typhoon in the South Pacific to reach an island that happened to be held by the Japanese, so they spent the final years of the war struggling to survive in a Japanese prison camp.

      It dawned on me that there was no way that these men could have been specifically prepared for this combination or duration of circumstances – and yet they managed to survive.

      They did so by relying on their training.

      Before my dad died, I talked to my him and some of my my uncles, all of whom served in WWII, and they all told me the same thing – from day one of basic training, they were drilled endlessly in every aspect of military life and warfare because in the chaos of battle they were required to follow their training so that they didn’t let their buddies down.

      These men were afraid of dying, but they were even more afraid of letting their fellow soldiers down by not doing their jobs. Not a single man wanted to be responsible for the death or wounding of a fellow soldier because they didn’t do their job and stick to the training. This training allowed each member of the unit to know exactly what the other guys were going to be doing and in the chaos of battle, each could anticipate what the other would do in a given situation.

      That is what was so amazing about the confusion when the 82nd and 101st were parachuted in to many of the wrong places on D-Day and many were separated from their units – the individuals and the small groups could have hidden and waited but they didn’t – they all knew where their objectives were and to a man, they headed toward those points without hesitation and without support. Duty. Honor. Courage. They didn’t want to let their buddies down.

      What was also amazing to me was how much my dad and uncles remembered about their basic training over 70 years ago. My dad went in at 18, he was 86 when he passed and he still could quote the safety procedures for setting setting a dynamite charge to cut a bridge timber – verbatim from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers handbook (he blew stuff up, he was a demolition expert).

  2. I will be visiting the grave of my uncle, 1st Lt. Don Willey at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy this coming March. He was the navigator on a bomber that was shot down on July, 16, 1943. One of the 3 survivors said he forced him to take the last remaining parachute and that he kept the plane horizontal until everyone escaped that could. Quite the HERO. This will be my second trip to his gravesite, so I understand your feelings Mike.

  3. Pingback: Lest We Not Forget: June 6th, 1944 | The Rio Norte Line

  4. Richard Geigner is my great uncle and I am proud to have his first name as my middle name. My grandfather was in the 101st airborne in WW2 and I followed in his footsteps by joining the army after high school and went to airborne school and was in the 25th infantry division for 4 years. I am very proud of my families service to our country and hope that more young men and women know what it means to serve our country.

    • God Bless to your Uncle Gary….and to you for your service and commitment to our Country and the principles for which it stands.

      My own uncle shares the french soil with your Uncle. He was with the 82nd Airborne’s 508th PIR. He was killed in St Mere Eglise on June 7, 1944.

      May they all never be forgotten.

Talk Amongst Yourselves:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s