Pearl absentmindely lifted her fingers to the dangling chin strap of her helmet. She stood still, rigid at the stern of the ship. With eyes closed, she whispered a prayer for strength and courage. She felt Rose standing next to her, heard the steady rhythm of her breathing, and heard her dear friend whisper, “You better just keep your eyes closed and keep on praying. You don’t want to see this…”
There was something in the woman’s voice that caused Pearl to open her eyes. Through the haze of the ocean’s breath, Pearl could see nothing at first but the smoke rising from mortar fire and the orange glow of tracers bright in the poor light. A thick smell of death, of hell, floated on the sea breeze. The ship rocked, little thumps and thuds echoing off the side of the vessel. Pearl looked down and was horrified to see that what hit the sides of the vessel was nothing more than the bloated bodies of American soldiers floating face down in the water, bobbing up and down with each gentle wave. The ship floated through the carnage with each person aboard standing with stunned eyes and breath frozen somewhere between their pale lips.
“Dear God…” Pearl whispered, a strange sensation creeping up her spine. It wasn’t a feeling of fear, but a strange sense of awe at the sight that she knew few would ever have to see because of the sacrifice these nameless soldiers had given in their lives.
With pistol belts secured and packs hanging heavy and hard against her lower back, Pearl felt as if her man-sized combat boots had been packed with lead. Her legs were heavy, nearly as heavy as her heart. The vessel climbed through the shallow water until it could go no longer. The ramp was lowered and cold water rushed forward. Without an order even having to be shouted, the men and nurses waded as quickly as they could through the cold water, pushing through the bloated bodies as enemy bullets whistled past their ears.
As soon as their water-logged boots hit the Sicilian beach, Rose reached for Pearl’s hand. “Come on!” she yelled through the storm. “Don’t stop running, Pearl!”
The two women ran up the beach as men fell around them. A great thunder of voices all yelling different words reverberated within the women’s ears. German, Italian, American…the gunfire seemed to come from every direction. The confusion, the overwhelming scent of sulfur and open flesh, the fog that stung the eyes…it was a wonder that a soul would ever live to tell the tale of the day American forces moved into Sicily. But even more so, it was a wonder that Pearl and Rose had landed right alongside the men, running hand-in-hand with canteens clanking against their thighs, their hair sopping wet and hanging in their eyes, and their hearts pounding just as loudly as every man’s on that beach.
“What did you think of it all, Nana?” A young girl in her teens asked her gray-haired grandmother so many decades later. “What was it like to be a woman on the frontlines?”
Pearl’s eyes glistened with tears as she looked over to the window where snowflakes brushed against the windowpane. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” She said softly, her voice rough with age. “There were men out there standing their ground, fighting with everything they had in them; some just to live another day…some out of the great conviction that they buried deep within their hearts. Men fell all around them. Surely they must have thought they would die. They fought as if they never noticed the bullets ripping through their trousers, as if it didn’t matter what the next second held for them. They fought strong and brave in the middle of the storm with the only hope…that if they fell…they would be leaving this world for a better place.”
Pearl look at her granddaughter so young and innocent. She would never see the things that Peal had seen; for that she was glad. She reached for the girl’s hand and held it tight. Pearl’s heart overflowed with a promise she’d received that very day upon that beach…
“Rosie, I learned something from those men that day. They showed me that no matter how hot the battle, no matter how much our hearts want to race out of us from fear, we must stand just as strong and brave amongst the fire as they did. No matter what happens to you, you were never meant for this world anyhow. If you fall…you’ll be caught up in the arms of our Lord and Father. Those men on that beach, they showed me that’s what is worth fighting for. If we understand that, we’ll always be able to stand strong and brave in that promise.”
Pearl paused and leaned as close to her granddaughter as she could. She looked full in her face and spoke with as much conviction as her old body could muster, “Never, ever forget a very important promise, my dear.”
“What promise?” Rosie asked, her eyes beginning to fill with tears of her own.
"That your Father will stand beside you in battle You’ll never be alone. His strength will become your own.”
Pearl closed her eyes and could feel Rose’s hand in her own, pulling her, never letting go as her dear friend promised in the midst of the raging battle, “Just keep running, Pearl! We’ll make it!”
With mortar rounds falling too close, the earth shaking beneath her feet, the tracers whistling and lighting up the sky in shades of red and bright orange, Pearl and Rose ran through the battle. In the trenches they healed wounds. Under the covering of canvas tents, they stitched up legs and arms. Through the halls of a pristine hospital they whispered endearments to suffering soldiers both friend and enemy. Under God’s blue sky, they lived lives of Saints that walked among soldiers and rested in their Father’s strength…and His promise.
May you always know the peace of your Heavenly Father in the midst of your own storms and battles. May you always feel His hand gently take your own as you stand together courageously facing whatever darkness broods on the horizon. Always remember, that instead of being afraid, turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of this earth will grow strangely dim…in the light of His glory and grace.
I found the story to be wonderfully written and a delight to read. It is so true that the Father is always there to lift us when and if we fall. I know this from my own life's experiences. I really enjoyed reading this. God Bless!