Normandy’s (not-so) Light Brigade.

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In 1854, Alfred, Lord Tennyson (the Poet Laureate of the UK at the time), penned a poem entitled “The Charge of The Light Brigade.” Famous for such lines as “Half a league, half a league / Half a league onward…”, and “…Theirs not to make reply / Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to do and die.”, this poem lived on in Robert F. Sargent’s iconic photo, above, in 1944, of his perspective of Operation Neptune (a.k.a. the invasion of Normandy, on this day).

Sargent survived the ordeal, and brought this photo back. He entitled it “Taxis to Hell – and Back – Into the Jaws of Death” (the latter phrase referring to a refrain from Tennyson’s poem), and it is one of the most reproduced photographs of the D-Day beach landing ever.

Sargent was a Chief Photographer’s Mate (CPhoM) in the United States Coast Guard. He was accompanying Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division when they landed on Omaha Beach from the USS Samuel Chase in a LCVP (“Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel”) at 0740hrs. The boat left at approximately 0530hrs, continually drenching it’s crew with cold seawater. (How he kept his equipment dry enough to continue snapping photos, I’ll never know.)

The original caption that he gave the photo was as follows:

“American invaders spring from the ramp of a Coast Guard-manned landing barge to wade those last perilous yards to the beach of Normandy. Enemy fire will cut some of them down. Their ‘taxi’ will pull itself off the sands and dash back to a Coast Guard manned transport for more passengers.”

It is absolutely fitting to commend the men who landed on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches this day—Allied casualties numbered approximately 10,000 souls. They were dedicated, decisive, and achieved “nothing less than full victory” (as they had been inspired to be by a letter from General Dwight D. Eisenhower). Worth mentioning, however, are the photographers and authors and correspondents who made it back to the U.S. to share with us these photographs; else we would have had no visual or verbal representation of the sacrifice these men made on that day. 

From the then-unknown Frank Sargent, to the photographic great Robert Capa… 

(Seriously, this article is absolutely worth a read—I hope you’ve seen his photo of Huston Riley fighting through the surf towards the beach:

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…the photographic prowess of these men made it possible to bring imagery and a powerful sense of humanity to the citizens back home, who were clinging to a thinly-journaled thread of what was going on overseas.

Those who choose to put yourselves in harm’s way to fight for the rest of us—thank you. 

Those of you who choose to put yourselves in harm’s way simply to inform the rest of us—thank you.

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