Tag Archive | "D-Day"

Remembering D-Day

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June 6, 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the planned invasion of the Normandy coast during World War II.  The assembly of American and Allied forces in preparation for the invasion had England bulging at the seams, and a long stretch of bad weather with little hope for improvement had stalled the invasion plans.  General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of American and Allied Forces, was anxiously awaiting a break in the weather.  With his troops ready to go, how long could he delay without the enemy detecting the plan?  Finally, his meteorologists informed that there would be a brief window in time during which the weather would break.  Without hesitation, he gave the order to “Go.”

 

The plan was to drop airborne troops behind enemy fortifications on the Normandy coast.  Their mission was to secure vital roads that could supply reinforcements to the German defenders along the Atlantic wall.  The group selected for this critical component of the plan was comprised of the American 82nd and 101st and the British 6th airborne divisions to be deployed in the predawn hours just before the amphibious invasion.

 

They say that the “best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” and General Eisenhower’s plans were no exception.  The 101st airborne missed its drop zone with paratroopers scattered in low-lying marshland, and the 82nd airborne was accidentally dropped into the heavily-defended town of Saint Mare Inglese and sustained heavy casualties.

 

The amphibious landings were codenamed Operation Neptune.  The target 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach.  The first two sectors would be landed upon by American forces; the latter three by British and Canadian troops.  The key to the invasion plans was the French city of Caen.  The responsibility for securing the city was delegated to British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.  But, this would not happen on that fateful day.

 

Also, the Allied naval bombardment of Omaha Beach fell short of its mark, and the aerial bombardment missed its targets, leaving the amphibious forces at Omaha Beach staring down the barrels of German artillery and gunfire.  This was witnessed by General Omar Bradley standing on the bridge of the Battleship Augusta and, at one point, he seriously considered calling off the attack.  But, as fate would have it, a company of Rangers missed their zone, landed at Omaha Beach, and bolstered the attack.  At the end of a long day, the American and Allied forces managed to secure a beachhead on Fortress Europe.  And, within a year, they would defeat Hitler’s Germany on May 8, 1945.

 

On June 6, 1944, I was 17 years old and working at the Philadelphia Naval shipyard as an electrician’s helper when President Franklin D Roosevelt summoned the American people to prayer.  He knew that, at that moment, the American and Allied forces were storming the beaches of the Normandy coast and, in his prayer, he prepared the American people for the realities of war.  Four months later, on my 18th birthday, I received a notice to report for the draft, and by December, I was drafted into United States Army.  That Christmas would be the last that I celebrated at home for two years.

 

After induction, I was sent to the Camp Robinson, near Little Rock, Arkansas, for infantry basic training, and after completing 15 weeks of basic training, I returned home for a 10-day leave before reporting for overseas assignment at Fort Meade, Maryland.   When I arrived at Fort Meade, the War in Europe had ended, and all eyes focused on the Pacific Theater where the war was still raging.  Subsequently, I was sent to Camp Howze, Texas for 6 weeks of jungle training, and upon completion, was transported to the West Coast for participation in a prospective final invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall.

 

Early in August 1945, I boarded the troopship USS Extavia.  That evening, I, along with other soldiers embarking for Japan, sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and watched from the ship’s deck until its image disappeared from sight.   I wondered if I’d ever see these shores again.  Six days later, the ship’s Captain announced the Japanese surrender.  All on board the ship cheered, and our Navy gun crew fired a salute for the occasion.  We continued our journey to our next landfall, Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands.

 

After three days of loading on provisions, we sailed until we reached Ulithi atoll in the Carolina Islands.  We didn’t know it then, but this would have been the site for the gathering of ships for the final invasion of Japan, an Armada the size of which would dwarf the Normandy Armada.  We stayed there for a few days and then continued on a journey that would take us to the island of Leyte in the Philippine Islands and the 8th Army Replacement Center near the town of Tacloban.  With the ending of World War II, replacements were needed to replace men from other units that were going home.  Because of my electrical background, I was transferred from infantry to the 24th Signal Company of the 24th Infantry Division on the island of Mindanao.

 

In mid-September, we joined a giant task force to secure and occupy the islands of Japan.  Our ship dropped us off at a town named Matsuyama on the island of Shikoko on or about October 7, 1945, just day before my 19th birthday.  Shikoko would be our home for the next couple of months.  Early in 1946, the 24th Division moved to the main island of Honshu to replace his Majesty’s Royal Cameron Highlanders stationed at Okayama.  It was like a page out of a Rudyard Kipling novel with kilted Scotsman and bagpipes.  Before they departed, they put on a show that included a dance.  I guess it was the Highland fling.  After a few months, the 24th Division was ordered to move to the southernmost island of Kyushu.  Our company set up headquarters at the Kitagawa racetrack near the town of Kokura.  This would be our final destination in Japan until our replacements arrived.

 

All of these events, although occurring 70 years ago, are still fresh in my memory – as I am certain they are in the thoughts and memories of others who served our country during and in the aftermath of World War II.  The War in Europe, Pearl Harbor, the American entry into World War II, the Normandy Invasion, the German surrender, the deployments of the atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the surrender of Japan all seem as if they recently occurred.  Clearly, they have left an indelible mark on me and others of my generation.  As I think back to America’s role and my own small contribution to the war effort, I am proud of my country and its leadership in saving large portions of the world from the threat of tyranny.  As much of today’s world cowers from threats including terrorism, a Russian bear seemingly intent on reassembling the old Soviet Union, a resurgent Iran, and China’s expanding economic and military power, America’s leadership is again needed to ensure the safety and security of those who wish to live in freedom.  One can only hope that we as a nation can summon the collective will and courage to meet today’s challenges, just as we did in the dark days leading up to D-Day, June 6th, 1944.

D-Day the Sixth of June

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With a relatively short window of opportunity in the midst of adverse conditions and against long odds, a decision is made that changes the course of history.  If you are thinking that this could be the plot of an excellent movie, you might be right.  In actuality, however, this is the storyline of what would come to be known as the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in World War II.

 

Sixty-eight years ago today, General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the Invasion of Normandy, France.  Dubbed Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion opened a second Allied front in the European theater that overextended and drained Nazi resources. The timing of the Invasion was critical, requiring a day proximate to a full moon providing nighttime illumination and the deepest possible water via a spring tide enabling safe navigation around defensive obstacles placed in the surf by the Germans.

 

Originally planned for June 5th, the Invasion was delayed by bad weather and very nearly had to be scuttled until the next full moon.  General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, agonized over the decision.  When his chief meteorologist forecast a brief improvement in the weather for the 6th of June, Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for the largest amphibious invasion transported by the greatest armada assembled in the history of the world.

 

By dawn on June 6th, more than 18,000 parachutists – members of U.S. and Allied Airborne Divisions were already on the ground, having been dropped behind the beaches to thwart any potential reinforcement of German troops defending the beaches.  The land invasion began at 6:30 AM.  British and Canadian forces overcame light opposition in the capture of the beaches code-named Juno, Sword, and Gold.  Likewise, American forces captured Utah Beach with relative ease.  Omaha Beach was also wrested from the Germans, but at a cost of 2,000 American lives.

 

By day’s end, more than 155,000 allied troops had stormed Normandy’s beaches.  By month’s end, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised for the quest to recapture Europe.  All, however, did not go according to plan.  One of the keys to the invasion’s success was the taking of the French city Caen by British General Bernard Montgomery.  When this was not accomplished promptly, the Allied advance in the hedgerow country of southern France was stalled but ultimately succeeded.

 

Within less than a year, victory in Europe was achieved.  The costs were high, but the price of freedom has always been dear throughout the history of mankind on this planet.  And, the landscape of Normandy remains to this day a testament to the heroism of those who paid the ultimate price in defense of freedom.

 

The beaches still retain their code names and cemeteries containing the remains of the fallen dot the landscape.  Many veterans and family members return to remember and honor the many who served and those who lost their lives that fateful day.  The French people, particularly those of the Normandy region, will never forget the men and women who liberated their country at the cost of their lives.

 

Over time, memories fade as do the numbers of living World War II veterans,  One can envision a day in the not too distant future when there may be no living veterans of World War II.  With no direct participants to keep the memories alive, perhaps the D-Day Invasion will be buried in history books and largely overlooked by the general public.

 

Yet, to the living World War II veterans, the War is indelibly etched in their minds and hearts – never to be forgotten.  They were boys who, after 15 weeks of training, were doing a man’s job.  And, their heroism saved the world from Nazi tyranny.

 

 

D-Day: A Day I Will Never Forget

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It’s hard to believe that the most famous battles of World War II took place on June 6th, sixty-six years ago.  I was 17 years old that day, and contributing to the war effort.  A tad too young to see active duty, I served as an electrician’s helper at the Philadelphia Naval shipyard, where I constructed and repaired ships for the U.S. Navy.  After the battleship Wisconsin, the aircraft carrier Antietam, and six destroyer escorts were built and launched, Uncle Sam called me to duty.  Although drafted, I never fired a single shot.  I became part of a peacekeeping/stabilizing mission in Japan once that nation had surrendered to the Allied Forces.  What took place on D-Day turned the tide in the Allies’ favor and kept me safe from harm.  You can understand, then, why the facts surrounding this celebrated battle remain fresh in my mind after so many years.


For more than a year leading up to D-Day, American troops were gathering in England.  On a tiny island bulging with men and machines of war, our forces prepared to open a second front in Europe.  By then, Hitler’s armies had conquered most of Western Europe, including France; they were spreading east, eying Moscow will ill intent.  Anticipating an attack by the Allies but not knowing exactly when we would strike, Hitler directed his forces to build the Atlantic Wall.  The leader of the Third Reich was convinced that the Allies would take the shortest route across the English Channel, via the Pas-de-Calais. Vigorously, Hitler’s men shored up for the onslaught with backup infantry and armored forces.


Aware of the enemy’s plan as well as his logical assumption concerning Pas-de-Calais, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces, selected a different route in order to surprise Hitler.  Ike chose to send the Allied troops through Normandy, France, but severe weather postponed the attack several times.  Finally, Eisenhower’s key meteorologist, Group Captain J. M. Stagg, discovered that there would be a brief improvement in the weather on June 6, 1944; quickly, he informed General Eisenhower.  Although not every military leader involved in the invasion agreed, Ike determined to strike during that small window of opportunity.  He took full responsibility in launching an attack the like of which the world had never seen.


Before dawn, on June 6, 1944, 5,000 thousand ships, 11,000 airplanes, and more than 150,000 troops crossed the English Channel. The greatest armada ever assembled landed on the beaches of Normandy, France to engage in heavy battle.  Over 4,000 Allied soldiers died that day and another 10,000 were wounded, but the rest soldiered on bravely.  Finally, the Allies secured a beachhead on Fortress Europe.  Less than a year later, on May 7th, 1945 Hitler’s Germany surrendered unconditionally.  On May 8th, victory in Europe was declared.


Beloved Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only U.S. President to serve four terms in office, died three short weeks before Hitler’s surrender.  He never experienced the victory in Europe, but he left a legacy that few presidents have matched.


His first term took place from 1933 to 1937.  Television had yet to be invented to lure in the masses, but FDR drew millions of people time and again to gather around their radios.  During his Fireside Chats, his was the voice that calmed and uplifted a nation suffering through the Great Depression.


His second term spanned 1937 to 1941.  On December 7, 1941, FDR’s voice once again rallied the nation when he declared that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th, 1941.


During his third term (1941 to 1945), he summoned America reverently with his D-Day Prayer on June 6th, 1944.


Serving his fourth term and suffering from hypertension and cardiac disease, God called Franklin Delano Roosevelt home.  On April 12, 1945, the voice that had weathered both national and personal crises was silenced.  Involved in politics more than two decades earlier, FDR had contracted polio, but few Americans were aware of this, for the future 32nd President of the United States had conscripted the press into a conspiracy.  He had asked to the press to photograph him only from the waist up to disguise his wheelchair, and to maintain their silence as to the illness that had put him there.  Once he had achieved Presidency, he continued this policy in order to appear strong for the nation that had relied so heavily upon his wisdom and leadership.


Understanding that heavy casualties were expected on that Normandy beach, FDR prepared a D-Day prayer to help ease the pain of those about to lose their loved ones.   He entitled it, Let Our Hearts Be Stout.


As I recall this prayer, I feel that President Roosevelt wrote it not only for the families of the soldiers who perished at Normandy but for a world that, sixty-six years later, has still not learned to resolve its differences peacefully.


Using the broadcast media of his day, radio, FDR stated “Last night when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the English Channel.  It has come to pass with success thus far, and so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.”

  

What followed was the text of FDR’s prayer:


“Almighty God, our sons, the pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, to set free a suffering humanity.

 

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness to their faith.

 

They will need Thy blessings.  They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest until the victory is won.  The darkness will be rent by noise and flame.  Men’s souls will be shaken with the violence of war, for these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace.

 

They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.  They fight to let justice arise, and for tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people.  They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

 

Some will never return.  Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

 

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

 

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

 

Amen.”

Operation Overlord: D-Day, The 6th of June

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operation-overlord

Appointed Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower was given the monumental task of establishing a second front in Europe in order to defeat Hitler’s Germany.  Eisenhower determined that the shortest supply route to Europe was the Pas-de-Calais; under the command of Field Marshal von Rundstedt, the Germans arrived at the same conclusion.  Therefore, the Axis military concentrated on reinforcing their Atlantic Ocean wall defenses in this area.

 

Given this intelligence, Eisenhower was compelled to choose another area upon which to unleash an assault.  After much consideration, he chose Normandy because of its five landing beaches spanning a distance of 40 miles.  The beaches on which the American troops would land were code-named Omaha and Utah.  The beaches that would receive the British and Canadian soldier were referred to as Sword, Juno, and Gold.  For weeks, the weather over the Normandy coast plagued the invasion plans of the Allied Forces.  Finally, after General Eisenhower was informed that there would be 24-hour break in the weather, he assumed responsibility and said, “Go!”

 

Charged with taking the towns and securing the roads leading to the beaches, to prevent enemy troops from re-enforcing those sandy stretches, airborne troops were dropped behind the German beach defenses on the night of June 5, 1944.  They were the American 82nd and 101st and the British 6th Airborne Divisions.  In the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944, the greatest armada ever assembled crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy.  By a quirk of fate, the Americans landing at Utah missed their landing point, which was heavily defended, and found themselves instead on a stretch of beach unoccupied by the Germans: a stroke of luck that saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers.  The same blessing did not occur at Omaha, which subsequently came to be known as Bloody Omaha.  The Naval bombardment of shells at Omaha landed short of their mark.  Compounding this unfortunate event, the aerial bombardment missed its targets, leaving the first wave of troops staring down the barrels of German artillery and gunfire.  The key to the Normandy invasion was the French city of Caen.  Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery was given the assignment of securing this town, but that was not to be on that fateful day.

 

The German Field Marshal Irwin Rommel (“The Desert Fox”) was assigned to build the Atlantic wall to defend Hitler’s Europe from invasion. During its construction, Rommel advised the soldiers burdened with this responsibility that when that invasion took place, it would be the longest day to see who would emerge the victor. The day that came to be known as D-Day was indeed a long one.  But before it ended, American and other Allied Forces managed to secure a beachhead on Fortress Europe.  Less than one year later, they would defeat Hitler on European soil.

 

Sixty-five years after D-Day, the beaches of Normandy are quiet, but they still retain their code-names. The only reminders of this day are the military cemeteries that dot the area. Destroyed during the invasion, the town of St. Mare Inglese was later restored. It is a living memorial to the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. The church in that town was also restored.  It includes an effigy of the American paratrooper whose chute got snagged on the steeple as, below him waged the slaughter of his comrades as they were dropped accidentally into the heavily defended town.

 

Inside the same church are masterpieces of large stained glass windows. One window depicts the Virgin Mary with parachutes descending around her. Another window illustrates a medieval knight surrounded by the division patches of the units that liberated the town. A number of homes in the town have images of parachutes painted on them.  For many years after the storming of the beaches, countless veterans of that war returned to pay their respects to their fallen comrades and relive a part of their lives that claim a monumental, bittersweet history.

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