We all should rememberPublished 10:04am Monday, June 9, 2014
Friday marked the 70th anniversary of one of the most pivotal moments of the past century – now known simply as D-Day. But there was nothing simple or easy about the operation those four little letters represent.
I had not been born at that time – June 6, 1944. But thanks to a good education in history at both Wetumpka High and Troy University, as well as reminders from my older veteran friends (in particular the late, great Jack DeVenney), many of the campaigns of World War II hold prominent places in my mind.
Add to those the fact that I recently read “Monuments Men,” and some of those historic moments seem vivid in my imagination.
Picture in your mind’s eye 160,000 Allied troops landing along a 50-mile slice of the coast of France. Those soldiers – mostly from the U.S. and Great Britain – fought through heavy Nazi coastal fortifications in that amphibious assault.
Without doubt they were brave young men – most teenagers or only in their early 20s. On that one day more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded. But thanks to their courage and tenacity the invasion’s mission was accomplished – securing a foothold on continental Europe.
The logistics of the assault were mind-boggling – especially keeping in mind there were no computers to crunch numbers and no cell phones to provide instant communications.
More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft were involved in support of the mission, which was code named Operation Overlord. The beaches along that shore also bore code names – Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, Sword – and a veritable sea of blood was shed on them.
The invasion began overnight as the military armada crossed the English Channel. Vessels included not only the troop carriers, but minesweepers and supply vessels.
Then from midnight to morning, 11,000 aircraft flew nearly 15,000 sorties to help prepare the way for the infantry assault. Paratroopers also risked (and lost) their lives diving into hostile territory behind the lines of the established shoreline defense.
At 6:30 a.m. the amphibious troops began coming ashore. The carriers lay close together in the narrow channel. The sacrifice of those killed and injured paved the way for more than 100,000 of their comrades to begin to fight their way foot-by-foot across Europe with the ultimate goal of defeating Adolph Hitler’s forces.
Certainly the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen bore the brunt of the war. They put themselves in harm’s way and laid down their lives for the cause.
But there were other fighters in the war. Those in Great Britain were direct sufferers as cities were bombed and civilian lives were lost.
In the U.S., citizens wanted to do their part to support the war effort. People did without many things we don’t even consider luxuries today. Other items were strictly rationed.
Would today’s America be willing to sacrifice coffee or sugar or even cut down on using gasoline – much less give up televisions, computers or cell phones? I’m afraid the great majority of my fellow citizens would not be willing to give up anything for any cause. I find that a horribly sad harvest for the seeds sown by “The Greatest Generation.”
More real history should be taught to today’s students – if not in school, at least in our homes. It’s important. Consider the old cliché about “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.”
And too often in mankind’s history the most brutal contender has won both the battles and the wars. Next time the Hitler figure may be the victor. We all need to give more than a passing thought to what the world’s civilization would now be like if World War II had been won by the other side.
Every year fewer of those who fought on the beaches of France, in the Pacific and on the Western Front remain with us. Some of them are here in our own communities.
Take time to thank them and to listen to their stories of their time “over there” (if they are willing to share). You will probably learn a great deal you didn’t previously know.
Until next week … and bless your hearts.
Peggy Blackburn is managing editor of The Wetumpka Herald and Elmore County Weekend. She can be reached at 334-567-7811. Her email address is peggy.blackburn@TheWetumpkaHerald.com.