I recently penned a blog about Memorial Day that honored the military men and women who sacrificed their lives to preserve our freedoms.
I return to a similar theme about a momentous military event whose effects we still feel. We celebrate it today, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing, June 6, 1944. The invasion of Europe during World War II has become forever etched in our nation’s military history.
Allied forces, led by the United States, Great Britain and Canada launched the greatest amphibious operation in the history of humankind. The greater, overarching effect of that event, of course, remains with us to this very day: A democratic Europe.
The carnage at D-Day was appalling and the courage overwhelming. According to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, there were 4,414 Allied deaths that day – 2,501 of which were Americans. To have a sense of what the Allied Forces had to encounter we only need to recall the word of Col. George A. Taylor, commanding the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, on Omaha Beach: “Two kinds of people are staying on this beach: the dead and those who are going to die.”
(In the movie “The Longest Day,” the actor Robert Mitchum delivered this quote as Brig. Gen. Norman D. Cota of the 29th Infantry Division.)
While the Americans, British and Canadians led the brunt of the assault, they were not alone. The cooperation and commitment that led to the success of this gargantuan amphibious operation were shared among other freedom-loving nations that provided troops. A total of 11 other democracies including Australia, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, Greece, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland participated.
On this 75th anniversary, the media will fittingly provide us with a glimpse of this heroic effort through films, documentaries and articles about the invasion.
There is one compelling feature of these remembrances that one cannot ignore. It is how youthful many of the soldiers were who carried the future of European democracy on their shoulders. Yet they went up against the massive defenses that the enemy had constructed.
I like to think that the spirit and willpower of believing in democracy won out. It is also particularly compelling for those African American soldiers, who fought gallantly alongside their white counterparts, only to be denied their piece of that democracy which their bloodshed was seeking to preserve.
Today, we seem detached or in conflict with our European allies on a broad range of topics. I would hope that we can somehow find that thread, indeed, a sturdy rope, to which we can share again for the sake of our mutual interests.
American soldiers and their allies did so 75 years ago, bravely and gallantly. They should inspire us to find common ground today.
That’s my take, what’s yours?
D-Day by the Numbers
- Around 156,115 men were landed across five invasion beaches and drop zones. The invasion area was 50-miles wide and was split into two zones - the Western Task Force containing the American beaches codenamed UTAH and OMAHA, and the Eastern Task Force with the British and Canadian Beaches codenamed GOLD, JUNO and SWORD. Around 73,000 American soldiers landed on D-Day, and around 83,115 British and Canadian. Facing them were around 50,000 German troops.
- In the build-up to the Normandy Landings, around 7,000,000 tons of supplies were shipped to Britain from the United States, including almost 450,000 tons of ammunition. As D-Day drew closer, the Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower was reportedly smoking up to 4 packs of Camel cigarettes each day.
- Sailors from eight different nations, some 195,700 of them, manned the ships of the naval flotilla which carried the bulk of the troops and equipment across the English Channel. Of the 6,939 vessels that took part in the Normandy Landings, there were 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships/landing craft, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels. Waiting for the Allies on their arrival in Normandy were some 4,000,000 mines placed by the Germans as part of their "Atlantic Wall" defenses.
- Amongst the American forces to land at Utah Beach were 14 Commanche Indian 'code-talkers' who were used to send coded messages in their native tongue.
- Allied losses on D-Day are estimated to be around 4,413 dead. German numbers are not well recorded, but it is estimated that between 4,000 and 9,000 were killed.
Source: D-Day Center