Zane Rhyne, a junior at Grantsville High School, has again won the National Literary Competition Award for creative writing from Gallaudet University. He also won the contest last year.
Rhyne took top honors in the contest with a 1,500-word original story called “Omaha,” which entails the experience of a soldier as he’s charging Normandy’s Omaha Beach during World War II’s D-Day invasion.
Gallaudet is a federally chartered, private university in Washington, D.C. for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing. It is known for being the world’s only university designed to be barrier-free for deaf and hard of hearing students.
According to a news release from the Tooele County School District, Rhyne was logging hours toward earning his private pilot’s license a few years ago when he began to lose his hearing.
Part of his journey has included learning American Sign Language to communicate, changing schools and traveling to Salt Lake City to attend Utah School for the Deaf. He recently transferred to Grantsville High School.
Part of the award includes the choice between a trip to Washington D.C. or a scholarship towards his college tuition. Rhyne will also be able to attend a week-long American Sign Language or science camp at Gallaudet University this summer.
His mother, Jeanette Rhyne, said her son is stronger and more compassionate because of the challenges he has faced, including anxiety and isolation.
“My prayer is that he will inspire other students that are struggling with anxiety, depression and difficult challenges,” she said.
Rhyne was presented the award last month by two former Gallaudet alumni during a surprise assembly at GHS before the student body.
Adjacent is Rhyne’s story “Omaha” in its entirety.
Matthew Wayne, 22
29th Infantry Division, USA
Destination: ‘Omaha’ Beach
Objective: Secure a beachhead of five miles
Matthew went over it dozens of times as the boat crashed into the waves. His thoughts were interrupted as saline seawater spewed into the boat, stinging his eyes with salt and soaking his already moist uniform. No one had even stepped foot out of the hull and they were already drenched.
He rubbed his eyes and looked into the stormy, gray sky. He heard the engines of planes over the deafening sound of the waves. Hopefully Allies, he thought.
Matthew opened his uniform’s water-marinated pocket and pulled out a photograph. It showed a young child, barely a newborn, being cradled by a woman. She wore a long dress and had her hair neatly draped around her blushed cheeks. They sat in front of a small, neat house with perfectly trimmed shrubs and flowers on the front lawn.
Martha and Shaun. His family.
Matthew gripped the photograph, imagining the celebrations they would have together when he returned home. A small smile forced its way onto his lips.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up through the now-sprinkling rain at Steven, his lifelong friend. Steven nodded solemnly at Matthew and then pulled back, gripping the railing of the ship. Matthew understood and carefully but hastily folded the photograph, placing it into his pocket once more. He stood and grabbed the railing with his left hand and his rifle in his right. He looked over the thirty-or-so other infantrymen in the ship. His thoughts turned to their families, their fates.
Right on cue, his thoughts were jerked out as everyone lost their footing, tumbling to the flooded, cold, steel floor of the ship. His head submerged, and he closed his eyes.
The doors of the chapel burst open as Matthew carried his newly-wed wife down the steps. Martha’s dress seemed to overflow like white water over his arms as he leaned down and kissed her. She laughed heartily as Matthew set her down, and together they walked through grass under the autumn sky. They sat beneath an orange-leafed tree and looked at each other. Matthew again noticed Martha’s perfectly green eyes as they leaned against each other.
Matthew came to suddenly, bursting from the water and sputtering. Everyone gagged as they came up, spitting salt water out of their mouths and rubbing their eyes. One man screamed, asking about the sudden stop.
“We hit a sandbar; get out and wade to the beach!” A man at the front yelled back. Everyone looked at each other, eyes wide, and then at the two men shoving the large door open. It hit the water with a loud splash and before them, about 100 meters away, beyond freezing water and beached infantry carriers, was Omaha.
By now, gunshots could be easily heard over the waves and screaming. The men hesitantly jumped out into the three-foot-deep water. Matthew was one of the last to go as he was at the back, but he took one long look at his flooded, cold ship before jumping, realizing how much more hospitable it seemed compared to the water ahead.
Ten meters in, he couldn’t feel his feet anymore. He wasn’t even sure he still had his boots on, not that it mattered at this point. The depth of the water changed constantly anywhere from one foot to five. He held his rifle above his head, doing his best to prevent the saline water from ruining the gunpowder and casing.
His arms were becoming stiff from the frigid cold water of the early morning and from holding his rifle up. He looked up at it, trying to forget about the cold. On its side, he saw what he engraved into its side during the boat with his bowie knife: Proverbs 9:10. Matthew didn’t have enough time to inscribe the whole verse, but he didn’t need to: it was his favorite, and he knew its meaning. He used that to distract him from his stiff, cold wading.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
He repeated it in his head again and again. An unforeseen bullet suddenly zipped near him into the water. He looked ahead; the Germans were firing into the water at the infantrymen. Matthew and his fellow soldiers had no means of protection from the onslaught.
Cowards, he thought. They’re depraved enough to shoot upon defenseless men.
The water suddenly dipped in depth, and Matthew’s head submerged again. The water muffled all surrounding sounds to an almost calming extent: bullets sounded like the wings of a hummingbird. Screams became the pestering sounds of flies. Waves sounded like the rustling of leaves.
Martha and Matthew kissed again under the crisp, rustling leaves. They held each other until Matthew gently pulled away, presenting his wife with a bouquet of flowers from behind him. Martha smiled with exuberance as she inhaled the scent.
“You spoil me too much,” she said shyly.
“I’ll never be through with spoiling you.”
Matthew jumped up, spitting and blinded from the salt. He shook his head as water dribbled down his face and as gunshots rang in his ears. He was now a blind man wading through cold water towards an entire army of ruthless men.
Matthew stumbled through the water blindly, using screams and gunshots as his guide towards the shore. The reef stepped up suddenly, and he stood in shallow water. His legs were weak from the cold and now he realized how much the water had helped to lessen his weight. He collapsed on his knees in the shallows and rubbed his eyes with one hand.
The sounds of the beach seemed to make everything hazy yet clear at the same time when he opened his eyes. Before him, a mere 10 meters away, was land, and beyond that, a perilous journey towards the mainland.
He allowed his eyes to focus and looked around before continuing onward. By now he had adjusted to the screams and gunshots. To his left, infantrymen ran onward, dripping and shaking through the shallows towards the coast. Around them the water was tinted red. The same sight awaited him to his right.
Ahead lay Omaha. The sky was gray and it was lightly raining. Through it, he saw the beach. It was littered with large, iron crosses. Tank stoppers. Far up the coast were bunkers where muzzle-flashes emitted from. But between those and him were running soldiers, and near them, lay bodies. Hundreds and hundreds of mangled bodies.
Matthew ran forward while his mind struggled to take it all in.
Here he was, in the frigid hours of the morning, soaked with cold seawater, carrying a rifle and heading towards a hopeless goal against an army that had prepared ahead of time.
Matthew was already on the mossy sand. An hour or so had passed since he disembarked from the ship, but time by now was muddled. Everything was muddled.
He checked for water damage on his rifle. It seemed fine, so he prepared to fire. He looked down the sights and shot. It rang in his ears, and all the sounds came rushing back. Around him, blood-curdling screams echoed. Ahead, the Germans sprayed with reckless abandon. He suspected his shot missed, although he wasn’t really aiming for anything.
Matthew tripped on a large object as he stumbled his way along. He looked down, and his stomach sank. He collapsed and vomited, looking back at Steven’s eviscerated corpse. The sand around his body was stained red, and Steven’s face was contorted into a state of pure agony. His rifle lay a few feet behind.
Matthew screamed into the air.
He sat up and ran towards the mainland, rifle in hand, choking back tears. Matthew looked around, seeing only a few stragglers among a sea of dismembered bodies and blood-soaked sand. Only now had he truly noticed the sea of death he swam in.
He pulled his photograph from his pocket. It was now faded and speckled from the saltwater, and almost unintelligible. He held it against his chest, then deposited it within his shirt.
The gunshots persisted, although they were more localized by now. The Germans had fewer targets by this time.
Matthew ran onward towards the German bunkers. He was close now, maybe half a mile away. He stopped as he felt pain rip through his abdomen, coupled with a rush of adrenaline.
Matthew stumbled, and looked down. A red stain was growing on his shirt. He stammered almost in protest as his nose dripped with blood, and he collapsed into the moist, gray sand.
Matthew stared into his son’s blue eyes and smiled, cradled him. Just then, he heard a knock at his door.
“I think that’s for me,” he said, handing Shaun back to Martha.
Matthew returned a minute later holding an envelope. His face was white.
“I’ve been drafted.”