It's dawn, June 6, 1944. You're a U.S. soldier bouncing across the English Channel in a Higgins boat, your stomach in your throat from seasickness and your heart about to explode in your chest.
You're still a teenager, but a grown man by war standards. For 18 years, you'd never been more than a few miles from home. Now, you're an ocean away, but you're on no pleasure cruise.
You can already hear the shelling and the shooting. Machine-gun fire zings over your head and whaps into the hull. Then the boat hits the beach, the front door drops and you're in a slaughterhouse.
Men try to get off the boat. Most of them don't make it, but somehow, death misses you.
Miraculously, you make it to the beach, bewildered and scared. Bullets, mortar rounds and artillery fire -- it's all coming at you from just about every direction. In fact, it's been planned that way by the enemy, multiple crossfires to increase the efficiency of killing.
Someone -- a sergeant, a lieutenant, maybe just another private like you -- tells you to follow him. You do, and you make it off the beach.
You see more pain, blood and death in your first five minutes in France than you could have ever imagined. Guys you were playing poker with or sharing a cigarette with yesterday are now bleeding, in pieces, face down in the sand or floating in the channel, all of their tomorrows sacrificed, to paraphrase the old quote.
But you -- you make it. You make it off the beach and through the flooded ditches, the tank traps, the hedgerows. As the days pass, you make it through one French town and then another. Then you're in Belgium, maybe Germany. Hungry, cold, low on ammo and morale, and everything around you exploding, all while hip deep in snow, the winter there is so cold and miserable you think hell couldn't be half as bad.
But you make it through that, too. You make it all the way to Berlin, and then suddenly no one is shooting at you anymore.
Most of your friends are wounded or dead. You've seen things those who weren't with you will never understand. Pictures will never do it justice. You can't smell it in a picture. Taste it in your mouth. Feel the blood in your boots or the soot on your face. The smell of death in your clothes.
Afterward, you go home. You spend the next 50 or so years working hard, raising a family and trying to silence the demons, the nightmares, the echoes of that terrible year spent in Europe, echoes that even 70 years later never seem to quite go away.
Then one morning you wake up and you're nearly 90 years old. Most of the guys who survived the war with you are gone now, and more are going every day.
You pick up your newspaper on a Thursday, 69 years to the day that you jumped off a boat and into the maw of the Nazi war machine to try to save the world from tyranny. And what do you see?
Your own government spies on you. It uses the power of its various agencies to intimidate people. It tries to silence the free press. And all the while it grins and says, "Don't worry, it's for your own good. We're here to protect you. We've been doing this a long time. Just leave your security to us."
But they don't get it. You took the burden of protecting America -- and more importantly, liberty -- on your shoulders way before these criminals did with their fancy computers, high-tech gadgets and secret courts.
And you think to yourself: The man we beat did this kind of stuff, not us. Hitler suspended civil liberties, made his own laws, seized power under a veil of lies, sacrificed the principles of freedom in the name of a maniacal lust for power. We don't do that here.
But the more you read, the more you realize that yeah, we do.
What's worse: The outrage is missing, the response tepid. No one is marching on Washington. Why aren't people pulling the Constitution from underneath the government's boot heel?
You think of the near-endless field of grave markers at Normandy, at Arlington, at battlefields across the globe, of your buddies who were disfigured and maimed, and the lifetime of bad memories. A tear drops on the paper, and again you wonder.
Does this generation of Americans have any idea what was re-given to them? Any idea of the sacrifices it took to live in a free country? Of what a crime it is to have their rights taken away? And sadly, you know the answer is no. They get more upset if the Internet goes out for a few minutes. They don't know how ashamed they should be that they allowed their own government to take from them what you fought so hard to protect.
You shed another tear, and then you straighten yourself and hold your head high. Because at least you have your dignity. You have nothing for which to be ashamed. You, at least, did what was right and honorable.
Even if your country didn't.
Email Nate McCullough at email@example.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.