Today, marks the 77th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Not before or since has the United States and her allies taken on such a massive, complex, military enterprise. 156k soldiers. 193k naval personnel. Planning for the invasion began in May of 43. By July, the back-bone of the crack German Panzer divisions was broken at Kursk, by the Russians. Yet with that victory and Stalingrad, Stalin continued to blame Churchill and Roosevelt for dragging their feet and that his country was still taking the brunt of the war. It didn’t matter that North Africa, Sicily and half of Italy were now in our hands. Eisenhower was still leery of an invasion. The Atlantic Wall, Fortress Europa, was still a daunting task. He knew of the failed Dieppe raid in 42. If the allies failed with this invasion it would take years to regroup and try again. Failure was not an option.
The planning and training took off in earnest. New weapons were designed, “Hobart’s Funnies,” concrete floating docks, Mulberries” were built. Miles of continuous steel transmissions lines were fabricated to carry fuel across the channel, tens of thousands of feet of nylon were cranked out, food stocks and ammunition bulged from warehouses. The island of England became the largest military training base in the world. And all the while, secrecy was maintained while a phantom army was built around George Patton.
During a training exercise, German E-boats intercepted the force inflicting over 900 casualties. Luckily, they were not able to understand what they had stumbled upon even though OKH, OKW and Rommel knew an invasion was imminent.
Tensions mounted as D-day approached. Troops were stuck on ships for weeks waiting. The 8th Air Force and RAF continued to apply pressure from the air. They destroyed communication centers, railyards and bridges. They targeted airfields to reduce the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe. The navies continually swept the English Channel, North, Irish and Celtic Seas, the Bay of Biscay and the North Atlantic to make sure no German subs or surface ships dared venture out. But still there was trepidation with the venture. A gale stirred up in the English Channel. Soldiers became sea-sick. Paratroopers, glider pilots and their tugs, were called up then stood own. The tension and anxiousness were palatable. When would they go? Would they go? What was the hold up? The weight of the invasion and fate of Europe rested on one man’s shoulders, Dwight David Eisenhower. He would go down as one of the greatest generals to ever wear a uniform or the biggest military fiasco in the annuls of commanders.
He could wait no longer. A twenty-four break was in the forecast. He gave the order to go and could do nothing but wait to see if he made the right decision.
Airbases across England erupted with a thunderous roar as planes of all shapes and sizes warmed up then took to the skies. Hundreds of naval vessels, loaded with every implement of war began the arduous journey across the English Channel hoping the air forces had been successful in neutralizing enemy fortifications and strongholds. Airborne troops huddled in their transports, as their planes flew into the murky dark skies hoping the pilots knew where they were going and would hit the correct landing, drop-off points. No one spoke as they were lost in their own thoughts of mortality. Some prayed, some cried, some threw-up for want of the unknown.
The silence was broken by piercing lights and the sounds of shells exploding in the air. Pilots took evasive action to avoid the flak. Twenty-millimeter shells ripped through the thin-skinned planes, killing and wounding men. Planes exploded and plummeted to the ground carrying their precious cargo. Some zones were hit, many weren’t.
Battleships pounded inland installations at Sword, Gold, Juno, Omaha and Utah. This gave the men, who were moving to the shores, hope and then the ramps went down. The landings went according to plan except, Bloody Omaha. The fortifications Eisenhower feared and Rommel reinforced were still in full operation. Even direct hits from 1000lb bombs and 16” shells couldn’t knock them out. The first wave was almost decimated. General Bradly almost gave the order to evacuate the beaches but the lone heroism of a few brave men was able to open up a draw that allowed our troops to get behind the fixed positions and eliminate the defenders.
The cost in men was high in those first heady days of the invasion. The world sat on edge waiting to hear the invasion had been successful. If it was, the Germans would now be caught in a three-way vice they couldn’t escape or hope to defeat: Russia in the east, Americans/ British/Canadians/French in Italy and now France. The die was cast but Germany wasn’t throwing in the towel, at least not yet.
It was a massive undertaking that united a world at war. Defeat was not an option. The men and women who did the fighting and dying knew the risks they were taking but also knew the consequences of failure. It wasn’t an option.
So here we are on the 77th anniversary and what are we greeted with? The desecration of Memorials across our nation, that honor the men and women who fought and died for the freedoms we all love and enjoy. What they did not fight for was unrestrained anarchy and the destruction of a society they fought to uphold. They fought and died so Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr were able to peacefully assemble and march to expose social injustice and racism. They did not march to instill violence and hatred for they knew it would only lead to more violence, and the message they needed to get out would be ignored and nothing would change.
To the protestors today, during your peaceful gatherings, take a knee, call for a moment of silence and remember those that died on the beaches, in the skies and the dark cold seas, whose sacrifice allow you to let your voices be heard.