June 6, 2014

Remembering D-Day 70 years ago today

John Fund sets the scene

Northern France was under the boot of Nazi occupation, and was defended by an intimidating array of fortifications and gun emplacements all along its coast. But on June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of beaches whose names have gone down in history — Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword — in what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and at the cost of 9,000 killed or wounded soldiers, the Allies gained a toehold in Europe that became the staging area for the ultimate defeat of Nazi
Germany.

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Gerard Vanderleun puts us in the middle of the action

Today your job is straightforward. First you must load 40 to 50 pounds on your back. Then you need to climb down a net of rope that is banging on the steel side of a ship and jump into a steel rectangle bobbing on the surface of the ocean below you. Others are already inside the steel boat shouting and urging you to hurry up.

Once in the boat you stand with dozens of others as the boat is driven towards distant beaches and cliffs through a hot hailstorm of bullets and explosions. Boats moving nearby are, from time to time, hit with a high explosive shell and disintegrate in a red rain of bullets and body parts. Then there's the smell of men near you fouling themselves as the fear bites into their necks and they hunch lower into the boat. That smell mingles with the smell of cordite and seaweed.

In front of you, over the steel helmets of other men, you can see the flat surface of the bow’s landing ramp still held in place against the sea. Soon you are in range of the machine guns that line the cliffs above the beach ahead. The metallic dead sound of their bullets clangs and whines off the front of the ramp.

Then the coxswain shouts and the klaxon sounds and then you feel the keel of the LST grind against the rocks and sand of Normandy as the large shells from the boats in the armada behind you whuffle and moan overhead and then the explosions all around increase in intensity and then the bullets from the machine guns in the cliffs ahead and above rattle and hum along the steel plates of the boat and the men crouch lower and then somehow together lean forward as, at last, the ramp drops down and you see the beach and then the men surge forward and you step with them and then you are out in the chill waters of the channel wading in towards sand already doused with death, past bodies bobbing in the surf staining the waters crimson, and then you are on the beach.  It’s worse on the beach.

-Into The Jaws Of Death

Mark Steyn reminds us who they were

They were young, but they were not children. I was listening to President Obama explain yesterday from Brussels that the deserter he brought home from the Taliban this week was just a "kid". In fact, he's 28 years old. I remember walking through the Canadian graves at Bény-sur-Mer a few years ago. Over two thousand headstones, but only a handful of ages inscribed upon them: 22 years old, 21, 20… But they weren't "kids", they were men.

Tom Rogan explains why America remembers.  A US Army historian captures the scene:

Crossing bands of automatic fire caught most of the craft as the ramps were lowered, and from there on, losses were heavy. Most of them were incurred in the water, and among men who stopped to drag the wounded ashore. So exhausted and shaken were the assault troops that when they reached the sand, 300 yards from the shingle bank, most of them stopped there and crawled in just ahead of the tide. The greater number of the company's 105 casualties for D Day were suffered on the beach, in the first stage of assault.
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For America, D-Day isn't about arrogant triumphalism, it's about celebrating young men who had never previously left their country, but in four years, defeated two tyrannical empires.

There were many others who played their part,  Like the spy who saved D-Day named Juan Garcia from Barcelona  in  one of the most extraordinary and significant subterfuges in espionage history: Operation Fortitude South 

that worked so well that Hitler kept two armored divisions and 19 infantry divisions back in the Pas-de-Calais throughout June, July, and August, and it is certain that had these units not been held back, the Allies would have faced a far bloodier landing. Even as late as 29 July, Hitler remained so convinced that García was on his side that he personally awarded him the Iron Cross for "extraordinary service". By the time anyone realized there was no invasion force bound for Calais under General Patton, it was too late.
….. García stepped down after D-Day for his own safety. In December, the Director General of MI5 awarded him the MBE, thus making him perhaps the only person to have been decorated by both sides in World War Two.

A great leader, General Dwight D Eisenhower inspired them with  the Order of the Day

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely…..

The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

That great leader was willing to take full responsibility for failure   It came to be known as the "In Case of Failure Letter." The supreme Allied commander intended it for his troops if the invasion failed. In four sentences, he accepted the blame:

"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

President Ronald Reagan marked the 40th anniversary at Pointe du Hoc

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
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These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your ``lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.''

Paul Wolfowitz remembers the debt owed to the heroes of D-Day.

"Veterans who were here then . . . will surely all agree that it was the longest day of our lives," said Walter Ehlers, the last surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor among the D-Day veterans, who was speaking at the 50th anniversary in Normandy….D-day, he once said, was "60 times worse than 'Saving Private Ryan.
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"Sadly," continued Ehlers, who was an Army staff sergeant that fateful day, soon promoted to second lieutenant, "it was the end of the war for a great many brave men who died here that day. But it was also the beginning of the end for Hitler. The world changed June 6, 1944, the day the good guys took charge again."
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"While we braved these then-fortified beaches to beat back Hitler and to liberate Europe . . . we fought for much more than that. We fought to preserve what our forefathers had died for . . . to protect our faith, to preserve our liberty. . . . I pray that the price we paid on this beach will never be mortgaged, that my grandsons and granddaughters will never face the terror and horror that we faced here. But they must know that without freedom, there is no life and, that the things most worth living for, may sometimes demand dying for."

 Soldiers In Normandy Cemetery

Posted by Jill Fallon at June 6, 2014 11:09 AM | Permalink