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Huntington Beach, early May, 2020
credit: WB Scott

It has been quite awhile since I added to the Literature Corner.  This story by Bill Scott, is a timely addition: the meeting of men who actually took beaches under fire going up against a more contemporary, domestic enemy.  Bill Scott is a test pilot and retired aviation journalist, and the author of multiple books such as Space Wars,   Counterspace and The Permit.  Bill’s website is here.  Bill is also Erik Scott’s father.  I’m please to have Bill contribute to this scruffy little blog.  I think you’ll enjoy this one, gentle readers.

Take The Beach!

 It was a well-planned mission with a simple objective:  Attack and capture the beach. To ensure operational security, messages were fired out to alert participating units with details—where and when the first troops would launch—a mere 24 hours prior to D-Day.

As H-Hour neared, far more volunteers and uniformed personnel than expected assembled at the designated coordinates. Most were men—gray, wrinkled and stooped—but an estimated 40 percent were women and men in their twenties, thirties and forties. Roughly a third were wearing masks to cover their noses and mouths. Perhaps unconsciously, people self-distanced, standing several feet apart. The group was relatively quiet, milling around in a loose arc behind four men in military uniforms.

Max wore a loose-fitting, olive-drab Army Eisenhower jacket sporting two rows of faded campaign ribbons. The 93-year-old sat comfortably on a VA-issued motorized scooter with wide, oversized tires, eyeballing low waves crashing offshore, then swooshing onto the beach, before retreating. Piercing, light blue eyes that bespoke a still-sharp mind were shaded by a black ball cap. Across its crown, yellow embroidered letters proclaimed, “World War II Veteran.”

Six feet to the right of Max’s scooter, Karl leaned on a carbon-fiber cane. A decade younger, Karl wore a black ball cap declaring, “Korean War Veteran.” His distinctive green U.S. Marine uniform was indelibly creased by years in storage.

To Karl’s right, a stout, bearded African American in Navy whites slapped the dust off another black ball cap, before clamping it over a mass of tousled gray. Chief Petty Officer Marcus Jones’s headgear announced, “Vietnam War Veteran—USN Retired.”

The fourth figure was a slim female in a loose-fitting U.S. Air Force, desert-tan flight suit. A set of parallel bars were sewn onto each shoulder. Black wings over a zippered left-side pocket identified Captain Raye Menza as a command pilot. On her right shoulder, the unmistakable shadow of an A-10 Warthog attack jet hinted that the lady warrior went to work with a powerful 30-mm cannon.

Facing the well-spaced veterans, eight Orange County sheriff deputies mounted on chestnut-brown horses formed a solid barrier between a steadily growing crowd and a broad expanse of sand a hundred yards north of the empty, cordoned-off Huntington Beach pier. Each uniformed deputy wore a black helmet and tall black riding boots. They were backed by a dozen local police officers decked out in riot gear, plastic shields forming yet another barrier.

The crowd waited quietly, seemingly taking measure of the intimidating army of public security officers.

A middle-aged guy in knee-length, camouflage-pattern shorts and a white T-shirt emblazoned with a fierce bald eagle and banner proclaiming FREEDOM IS NOT FREE raised a bullhorn, faced the crowd of almost 1,000 men and women, and called for their attention.

“Today, we are honored to have four combat veterans in our midst. Each of them is here for the same reason: To send a loud-and-clear message to the California governor, who illegally dictated that all beaches in Orange County be closed. Why? Because he was outraged by what appeared to be a congested beach—that beach behind me—in a news media video clip. Never mind that the video was shot from a drone using a zoom lens that compressed the image and made it look like beach-goers were elbow-to-elbow with each other. The governor cited fear of spreading Covid-19 among Californians to justify his heavy-handed decree.

“Many of you were on this beach in early May, and know quite well that everybody was maintaining proper ‘social distancing’. No big parties. No large-group congregations. Nevertheless, Guv Gavin Newsom decided to exercise his tin-god power and close only Orange County beaches, without conferring with local representatives. Folks, that crossed the line of constitution-guaranteed liberty. So, today, these courageous vets are prepared to cross the governor’s line-in-the-sand.”

The organizer handed his bullhorn to Max, the World War II veteran. In a thin, shaky voice, Max drawled, “In June 1944, I hit the Normandy beach on D-Day. Lost several buddies in the first hour. Hell of a lot of young fellas died on Utah and Omaha. I tell ya, we were scared outa…”  Max paused, battling a spike of emotion. “Our job was to take that beach back from the Krauts, because one damned tyrant, Hitler, had his boot on Europe’s throat. We all fought, and good boys died, to give good folks one of God’s most precious gifts: Freedom!”

Max’s voice cracked again. “Now, our California gov’nor says it’s too dangerous to walk or sit on this here beach. Too risky. Hell, that pretty boy don’t know ‘risky’! Try hittin’ a beach with a million Krauts trying to kill ya! This blasted Covid stuff don’t come close!” With shaking hands, he returned the bullhorn to the organizer, who gave it to the Korean War vet.

Karl shuffled his feet, steadying himself, before one-handing the bullhorn aloft. “Like Max, my buddies and I also had to take a beach. A whole bunch of us went into Korea at Inchon. I lost a boatload of buddies there. We got into that bloody fracas for the same reason: Protect freedom from tyrants, who had invaded  their neighbors. I’m damned proud to say we kicked those Commies’ butts!”

Soft laughter rippled through the crowd.

Having said his piece, Karl extended an arm to transfer the bullhorn directly to Chief Petty Officer Jones. “In the sixties, I was there when we put Marines on the beach close to Da Nang in South Vietnam,” he said. “Roughly 58,000 Americans died in that worthless war, before we were forced to pull out.” He hesitated, shook his head and relayed the bullhorn to Captain Menza.

The pilot’s long, dark hair was pulled into a pony tail and stuffed through the back of her black ball cap. Its raised crown announced, “Gulf War I Veteran.” She surveyed the crowd for a long minute, before raising the bullhorn. “I flew 23 combat missions in the first Gulf War. In roughly 100 hours of fierce fighting, America and her allies obliterated one of the most powerful armed forces in the world at that time. Like other arrogant tyrants, Saadam Hussein thought he could get away with invading Kuwait and taking her oil fields.

“Once again, America and an impressive line-up of allies had to kick a tyrant in the teeth. We never took a beach, like these guys did,” she said, nodding toward the other vets, “but we rearranged a hell of a lot of sand!” The crowd laughed, whistled and clapped. Even grim-faced horse-cops grinned and nodded. More than likely, several of them also were veterans, who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Menza waited for the twitter to fade, then continued. “Seems like we Americans have to go kick some oppressor’s tail about every twenty years, doesn’t it?” She waited, scanning a sea of bobbing heads. “But I never thought Americans would have to take our own beaches from some home-grown tyrant. Today, we’re doing just that. I suspect most of you are as distressed as we vets are. Instead of coming from the sea, as we always have before, this time we’re hitting an American beach, but attacking from American soil.

“Governor Newsom, you are the tyrant holding this beach hostage!” she shouted, eliciting a roar of agreement. As the masses’ cheers and chants faded, the captain walked to Max and held the bullhorn for him.

“Troops, follow me!” the old man bellowed. An answering roar was deafening.

Flanked by three fellow veterans, Max shoved his scooter’s joystick forward and rolled toward the wall of mounted deputies. He yelled, “Boys, get the hell out of my way!”

Responding to Max’s order—or maybe it was preplanned—the wall of deputies parted. Horses smartly backed and moved aside, half to the left, half to the right, forming a wide channel. Max and his compatriots rolled and marched onto squishy sand, aimed directly at the ranks of helmeted police officers. Suddenly, a mounted deputy sheriff saluted. Other deputies followed, snapping salutes and honoring the four rebels passing before them.

A dozen paces behind the vets, a throng of supporters surged forward, funneling between the parallel lines of mounted deputies. The sea of men, women and children was led by several hundred members of veteran organizations, all wearing distinctive flight caps. The commander of a local post had pointedly informed the news media and governor’s office that his group did not organize the protest, but had no objection to members wearing its headgear in support of fellow veterans.

The phalanx of Huntington Beach’s finest held, then slowly melted to one side, allowing the throng to advance across the sand of Surf City USA. Max halted when his scooter’s fat tires reached packed, damp sand within feet of the Pacific’s cyclic incursion. His three veteran compadres, each representing a different war and era, stood beside him. Silent, all four stared at the hazy line where sky and water met. Other veterans formed a protective half-circle at a respectable distance, ensuring the swarm of supporters never intruded on private thoughts and memories.

From an amphitheater bordering Pacific Coast Highway, the heart-rending strains of “Taps” wafted across the broad expanse of California beach. In unison, Max, Karl, Marcus and Raye raised their right hands and held a salute, a reverent gesture honoring the thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and coast guardsmen who had answered their nation’s call and paid the ultimate price.

The Sun slipped across that sky-water horizon, briefly caressing four veterans’ faces with fading gold. Captain Menza spoke softly, ensuring only those beside her would hear: “Mission accomplished. The tyrant’s beach again belongs to Americans. Safe, secure—and free.”