Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Sunday, June 06, 2010

D-Day Plus 66

“When in doubt, do something!” Gen. George S. Patton

They were so young, the heroes of Normandy. It’s been sixty-six years since that dawn on June 6th as they sat huddled in their LST’s, seasick, wet (the seas were rough that morning; the infantrymen had to use their helmets to bail the water out of the boats), scared, but brave, racing towards destiny. Most of them were mere boys.

Now the little boys of their time are old men and the little boys of our time scarcely know what D-Day was. If they’re taught the history of D-Day, they come to understand what courage is.   What words can ever suffice to describe their sacrifice, or honor them enough?  Trying to find the words to pay tribute to their valor is a daunting task, for our debt to them is as enormous as the cliffs they were compelled, against all odds, to climb and claim for liberty.

The infantrymen faced a 150-foot wall and murderous fire from the German batteries on the hills. As soon as the doors opened on the landing craft, the slaughter began. Artillery shells took some landing craft out directly. On other landing craft, the soldiers faced a hail of machine gun fire, with nowhere to go.

The landing on Omaha Beach was particularly brutal. It was the most heavily defended beach head, with the most difficult terrain, with bluffs, cliffs and German pillboxes waiting for the Allied troops. Just beyond the bluffs was the 352nd German infantry division.

Over 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the invasion, including 9 battleships, 23 cruisers, 104 destroyers, and 71 large landing craft of various descriptions as well as troop transports, mine sweepers, and merchantmen - in all, nearly 5,000 ships of every type, the largest armada ever assembled. Not since 1688 had any force attempted such a landing. No one had ever seen anything like it.

By the end of the day, the Allies gained a foothold in Normandy. More than 100,000 soldiers began the march to liberate Europe and defeat Hitler. But the cost was high: more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded, in that single day.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his address to the Allied expeditionary force, said they were about to embark upon a great crusade. He noted the task would not be an easy one, but that the tide had turned since the beginning of the war.

“The free men of the world are marching together to victory!”

Operation Overlord was many years in planning. The British were dubious, at least at first, of the success of such an assault. Gen. Eisenhower deployed America’s most respected general, George S. Patton, to lead a fictitious army division. The ruse worked.

We owe so much to those brave men who died on the beaches of Normandy. They not only liberated Europe and defeated a heinous regime but taught us to believe in freedom and fight with true courage, no matter the personal cost.

Let us hope we never forget their courage and sacrifice.

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