Most of us know of D-Day only from the movies, TV, and maybe history books. But for a small and dwindling number of veterans — all of them now in their 90s — it was all too real.
D-Day was indeed the longest day, but it was just the first day of a campaign, code-named Operation Overlord, that would last through August 1944. On June 6, the western allies would storm five beaches in northern France and establish a base from which to pour troops and materiel into Europe to push the Nazi occupiers out. The greatest amphibious invasion ever attempted, it would require thousands of ships and planes, and millions of troops.
This was the “second front” that the leaders of our ally the Soviet Union — which had already been fighting Germany for three long years — had been demanding. By August, more than 2 million troops had been brought ashore in Normandy, at a cost of tens of thousands of casualties and the loss of thousands of aircraft and tanks.
But it worked: In less than a year from D-Day — caught between the American, British and Canadian troops in the West, and the Soviet forces in the East — Hitler would be dead and Germany would surrender unconditionally.
But let’s not forget that, 75 years ago this morning, the Allied success was not at all assured.
“Never before has an army attempted to land such vast numbers of men and materials in such a short time, but the job is being done after a shaky start,” Associated Press reporter Don Whitehead wrote from the beaches. “When we landed behind the assault troops the enemy still was pouring a heavy machine-gun, mortar and artillery fire into the boats as they drove ashore and had our troops pinned behind a gravel bank just above the water’s edge.”
On the eve of the invasion, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had prepared the troops, many of them not yet out of their teens, with these inspiring words:
“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. …”
But probably no one was more painfully aware of the dangers that lay ahead than Ike was. Just in case the worst should happen, he had also scrawled this message, to be released only if the colossal gamble should fail:
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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 on 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.”
Did somebody say “leadership”?
Do we have that kind of leadership today?
No names, please, but I’m thinking of someone who called Meghan Markle (a.k.a. the Duchess of Somewhere) “nasty” — on TV! — and then denied saying it. Someone who refuses to take responsibility, even for a trivial remark.
How can we possibly trust someone like that with issues of war and peace?
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.