I watch the news everyday; morning, noon, and night. When I watched this morning, there was nothing said about one of the most momentous events ever that happened on this day; June 6. The significance of today will probably pass without much mention. I hope I’m wrong, but the events of June 6, 1944 aren’t in the consciousness of many people still alive. After all, that was 74 years ago. I wasn’t even born then, and neither were most of you reading this.
But I bet your grandfather, or father, or possibly great-grandfather would know. Names like Utah, Omaha, and Point Du Hoc would still reverberate in their minds. For the British, Canadians, and Australians… the names Gold, Juno, and Sword would have been burned into their memories of those earlier generations.
Tom Brokaw has called them “The Greatest Generation.” I don’t know if they were the “Greatest,” but I do know that on this day in 1944; 153,115 men of the Allied forces went ashore in the largest amphibious invasion the world has ever known. It was the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany.
Maybe Tom Brokaw is right… maybe they are the “Greatest.” I can’t imagine what it must have been like. Soldiers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions jumped out of airplanes into the black of night. No night vision goggles, no infrared images of what was below… they just jumped out into the blackness not knowing what was waiting below them. I have no idea where they got the guts to do it.
Think about the two hundred or so Rangers that had to scale the cliffs of Point Du Hoc with the Germans up on top raining “Potato Masher” hand grenades down on them. Their job was to get to the top cliffs and disable massive German artillery that could be destructive to the Americans landing at Omaha and Utah beaches. They had no idea how many angry Germans were waiting for them on top of the cliffs. They just knew they had to get to the top no matter what the enemy was throwing down on them. I have no idea where they got the guts to do it.
The rest of the forces going ashore knew that the Germans were waiting for them. The Nazis had planted mines, wooden stakes, tripods and anti-tank traps to stop invading forces. As the soldiers waded… sometimes swimming or drowning as the went ashore… the Germans fired down on them from the fortifications they built to stop any invasion. The soldiers going ashore knew the Nazis would use everything they had to kill them and keep them from the beaches. I have no idea where they got the guts to do it.
But they did do it. Over 150,000 soldiers from the US, Britain, Canada, and Australia went ashore on “D-Day,” June 6, 1944. The toll was high with over 10,000 casualties… at least 4414 confirmed dead. Many movies, books, and stories have been told that try to tell us what it was like to go ashore on that day. But I don’t think any of book or movie can tell us what it was really like. Only those that were there really know. It doesn’t matter to me if they received some kind of award, badge or formalized honor… everyone that attacked the Nazis that day was a hero.
The success of Operation Overlord can’t be overstated. Within one week of D-Day, 326,000 men and 50,000 vehicles were put ashore. By the end of June, nearly a million allied soldiers were in France. It would still take another eleven months and many more sacrifices before Nazi Germany was defeated. But June 6, 1944 was the beginning of the end.
There are very few of those D-Day heroes still alive. Estimates vary, but at best, of the 150,000+ that went ashore that day… only a few thousand are alive. Of the 16 million who served in WWII only a bit over 500,000 were alive a year ago. As it will with all of us… age is catching up with them. All are over 90, and over 130,000 die a year.
So today… no make that every day… go out of your way to find one of those old guys wearing a WWII Veteran ball cap. Shake their hand and tell them “thank you.” But more than that, take a little time to talk with them. Ask them where they were and what they did in WWII. Ask them about their life, their children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Listen to their stories if they will share them with you. Do it today… you don’t have much time left till those stories are gone.