June 6, 1944. It was the date when a better part of America’s young men sacrificed their lives in the Allied invasion of Normandy that would free Europe from the pure evil of Hitler’s Nazi thugs.
As Memorial Day passes by this year, and we think of the Americans who died serving the cause of freedom, let’s reflect for a moment on one of the most astonishing military feats in history and the nearly 30,000 Americans who died to help bring it about.
How do you deploy a naval amphibious and air invasion where about a quarter of a million men and thousands of ships and airplanes can take a prepared and vigilant enemy by surprise? Good luck and bad weather helped.
The good luck kicked in when Erwin Rommel, the best general the Germans had, was away on June 6th celebrating his wife’s birthday. He wasn’t on scene to coordinate a more effective response in the first hectic day of the Normandy invasion. Bad weather helped mask the 5,000 naval and merchant ship invasion force from enemy reconnaissance.
Then there was the clever Allied deception and the megalomania of Adolf Hitler, who, until he could no longer deny the actual evidence, refused to believe that the Normandy beaches were the Allied objectives. By then it was too late to prevent the Allies from getting a foothold in France. In the months leading up to the invasion, clever subterfuge persuaded the Germans that the landing would occur anywhere but Normandy.
Of the 160,000 troops in the invasion force, 73,000 were Americans. The nearly 30,000 American battle deaths during the operation were over half the number of Americans lost in World War I, and about 10 percent of the overall battle deaths for the entire five years of World War II.
Anyone who has viewed the opening scenes of the Spielberg epic movie “Saving Private Ryan,” can get some idea of what it must have been like for those frightened young soldiers at the Normandy landings. Many were killed before they even got to the beach and the rest faced withering machine gun and mortar fire from fortified German bunkers.
Just imagine for one moment what all that must have been like – the mortal fear, the knowledge that in the next few minutes you had a better than even chance of never seeing those you love in this life ever again.
Those fortunate ones who survived and are still alive were granted an additional 69 years of life, and their numbers are dwindling. We owe them and their dead comrades more than can be communicated by an inadequate “Thank you.” They are our greatest generation.
Join us next week in remembering June 6th the Anniversary of Operation Overlord – D-Day.
At *your* service,