She wasn’t supposed to be there of course. She was meant to be in relative safety, sitting on a transport barge in the English channel with all the other journalists. But the previous evening, Martha Gellhorn had boldly boarded a hospital barge with her press credentials and the story that she was there to interview nurses. It was a sham, of course, but it got her onboard, where she found a bathroom and locked herself in. She spent a miserable night, horribly seasick, but when she crept out of her hiding place the next morning, she had a front-row seat to one of history’s greatest moments – the invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944. Thousands of ships and 160,000 men faced the great cliffs as tons of bombs rained from overhead. It would be perhaps the greatest news story of all time, but Martha found that it wasn’t her skill as a writer that was needed. The sea was filled with dead and wounded soldiers, and she leapt into action, helping wherever and however she could. At nightfall, she waded ashore with the medics and found herself on Omaha Beach, a stretcher-bearer with blistered hands, soaked to the skin with sea water and exhaustion. She would labor through the night, the daring she had known the night before transformed into bravery as she followed the mine sweepers. In the days to come, Martha Gellhorn would leave that place a different person; no longer an observer of history, but a participant…the lone woman in the D-Day invasion. Heroism sometimes arrives on a wave of opportunity, and we either rise or we don’t.
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