D-Day; H-Hour

This post is by Jeff Carter from Points and Figures

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If you went to school in America, you should know what those abbreviations mean.  If you didn’t, you might still have heard of them. People that taught me in middle school and high school were WW2 vets at the end of their teaching careers.  One was wounded on Iwo Jima.  One was a medic at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.  One fought with the Marines on Okinawa.  Parents of my friends fought.  One was in D-Day.  One liberated concentration camps.  A person in my family Hamp Harmon was there.  Wounded.  Later in the war he was at the Battle of the Bulge.  They wouldn’t let us forget but unfortunately, it’s different now.  The fuzzy lens of time combined with the spin of the present filter things differently.

Many don’t feel like remembrance is important.  It

long ago.  It was fought by people that they didn’t know.  It was in black and white.  It was fought mostly by whites.  Kids have been taught that WW2 initiated an “imperial America”.  Nothing could be further from the truth of that war or any of the wars that we have fought.  I would hope that any potential protestors are kept away from the beaches and the heads of state that will be there.  The remembrance isn’t about politics or advancing current agendas.

Today of all days is an important day.

Today is the 75th Aniversary of D-Day.  It was the first day that the Allies started on their quest to liberate Northern Europe.  Rome, Italy was liberated the day before.  On the Eastern Front, Russian forces were breaking the Nazi grip.  Jun 23rd, the Russians would begin Operation Bagration and crush the Nazis.  On the other side of the world on June 5th, US Marines invaded Saipan.  On June 15th, B-29 bombers would drop the first bombs on Japan since the Doolittle Raiders daring mission in April 1942.

The beaches at Normandy were the beginning of the end of the Third Reich.  It is the day that changed the history of the world right up until and including today.  There are very few pivotal days in human history when you can say that the fate of the world was fundamentally different at the beginning of the day than at the end.  June 6, 1944, was one of those days.  December 7, 1941, might live in infamy. but June 6, 1944, is famous because it was the day America unveiled its true culture again.  Americans didn’t storm the beach for conquest and the gain of America.

They landed to free people they didn’t know from the tyranny they didn’t deserve.

This will probably be the last time there will be a lot of veterans who actually lived through the battle present at the beaches.  After all, a young person who went ashore that day is 93.  If you have one in your family, get them to talk about it.   Take their oral history.  You will be glad you did.  Here is a recent article about a son who found his father’s journal about the war.  He never really knew and never had a chance to talk to him about it.  Don’t miss that chance.

There will be a lot of pomp and circumstance because of the number.  33 C-47’s are flying over Normandy again.  The plane that led the original drop of the 101st and 82nd Airborne is leading the group again.  Some of the same GI’s that jumped that day are going along for the ride again.  What memories that must bring!  What a flood of emotions that will course through their bodies.  Oh happy day that they survived and are still around to tell people about it.  P51’s and Spitfires will fill the sky.  What a joyous sound their Rolls Royce engines make.  How happy would you have been to hear that sound over your shoulder if you were an Allied trooper?

On this day of all days, we should remember how fragile freedom is.  Benjamin Franklin remarked that we had a “republic if we could keep it” and it has been plenty hard to keep in the short time that we have had it.

I have been to Omaha Beach.  It’s a sobering experience to walk along the sand, look up at the bluffs and then out at the ocean.  How did they do it?  I have met a few D-Day survivors.  One was Walt Ehlers who received the Medal of Honor a few days later on June 10th.    He passed away a few years ago now but you never forget a person like Walt.  You see the photos.  You see the movies re-enacting the landings.  You read the stories.  You wonder, could I do it?  Walt always told me that anyone could.  He said one of the greatest things he ever did in his life was lead 12 soldiers off a Higgins landing craft onto the beach and over to the seawall without anyone getting killed or wounded. Walt’s brother Roland died just up the beach from him. Another acquaintance of mine was in his mother’s womb that day.  His father was killed at Omaha Beach.  Amazing. It takes your breath away when you think about it.

Going to the cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer is a solemn experience.  In 2006, I went there with my family.  On that day it was chilly.  There were kids running around and playing in the water at the beach.  I remember thinking how happy the people who fought there on Jun 6 would have been to see little kids playing innocently in the sand.  If you get the chance, go.  You will be a better person for it.

At the cemetery, you look at grave upon grave upon grave.  You see the dates the person died, their name, their unit.  All close to the same day.  6 Jun 44. 380 of them are unknown to us, but only known to God.  Of course, you might remember there are cemeteries like this all over the world with American soldiers in them not to mention all the burials at sea.  There were 22 D-Days in the Pacific.  The ones buried in those cemeteries made a sacrifice that was final.  Their sacrifice wasn’t in vain or a waste, especially if we continue to remember it.

The carnage at Omaha was particularly different compared to the other beaches which were horrific in their own ways.  Omaha gets the press but no one had an easy day.  The big problem at Omaha was that the bombers missed their targets so all enemy defenses were intact.  There were no holes on the beach to hide in.  My friend Walt said he met a Nazi machine gunner that survived the war.  On June 6 he started crying while he was operating his machine gun killing so many US soldiers.  Naval guns could inflict damage but couldn’t blow up pillboxes.  The Nazi guns were arranged so there was a withering crossfire up and down the beach. There were also the cliffs of Point du Hoc that US Army Rangers had to climb.  Pegasus Bridge had to be taken in order for anyone on any beach to have a chance.  British troops secured the bridge within ten minutes of landing.  Pathfinders dropped in the middle of the night to set up scopes so the planes bringing other paratroopers would know where to go.  I have read several books about D-Day but I believe the best one about the beach on that day is by John McManus.  You might read it and you might get an appreciation of what people sacrificed 75 years ago today so you can be free.

My friend Keith Huxen of the National World War Two Museum has been writing a lot about D-Day recently on his blog.  Recently, he wrote about British Admiral Ramsey.  Ramsey was in charge when Great Britain evacuated 380,000 troops from Dunkirk in an amazing execution of grit.  Without him, there probably isn’t a D-Day.  As Keith writes, for him the war had come full circle.

Monday, June 5, 1944 “Thus has been made the vital and crucial decision to stage the great enterprise which [shall?], I hope, be the immediate means of bringing about the downfall of Germany’s fighting power & Nazi oppression & an early cessation of hostilities.

‘I am not under [any] delusions as to the risks involved in this most difficult of all operations . . . Success will be in the balance. We must trust in our invisible assets to tip the balance in our favor.

‘We shall require all the help that God can give us & I cannot believe that this will not be forthcoming.”

General Eisenhower made the decision to go.  Stephen Ambrose, the late WWII historian and co-founder of the National World War Two Museum wrote, “Ike wasn’t taking a vote.  Ike asked all 14 men in the room. Seven of them said to postpone and seven of them said to go ahead.” Everyone stared at General Eisenhower for what seemed like forever. Finally, Ike said simply, “Okay, let’s do it.  He wrote a quick note claiming full responsibility for failure.  When he turned to face the troops who would go into battle he gave them the “why” they were doing what they were doing. He said,

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 hopes 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 well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

General Omar Bradley almost stopped the landings at Omaha they were going so badly.  All of a sudden, Americans broke through and the balance of the day changed.  Of course, the GI’s Eisenhower was leading didn’t know about that note.

Today I will plant myself in front of a television to follow Turner Classic Movies and watch some of the festivities.  Tonight I am looking forward to watching The Cold Blue on HBO.  I am not expecting great speeches.  I don’t expect that anything will be written tomorrow about D-Day that is better than anything that came before it.  All I can think about is those rows of white gravestones on a bluff in Colleville-sur-Mer, GPS Coordinates: N49 20.910 W0 51.285.  I hope your mind goes there for at least a moment today too.  They might be dead, but what they did for us can be remembered forever so they truly never die.

René Coty
Président de la République Française