At 0630 hours Normandy time, sixty-three years ago today, the bow ramps dropped on landing craft off the beaches of France, and a generation of young American men would stumble off them, through the bullet-churned water, and into immortality.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.With those words from General Eisenhower in their pockets, the men of the 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions went ashore at Omaha beach. Largely inexperienced, facing tricky tides, clever beach defenses, and the murderously accurate fire of the veteran German 352nd Infantry Division, they floundered through the blood-streaked surf to the rocky shingle of the French coast. Despite hideous losses (A Company, of the 116th Regiment, landing in the zone known as "Dog White", within minutes had only a couple of dozen men left out of 200; only one officer was still alive as of 0640, and all their sergeants were dead or wounded,) they fought on and secured the beaches.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
If Waterloo is the defining moment of British arms, and Stalingrad is the symbol for the Russian army, then surely Omaha Beach stands as the mark of the American soldier. Despite blunders and confusion, chaos and disorder, and casualties our generation seems unable to fathom, those untried troops fought their way ashore through everything that was thrown against them, and prevailed. They helped keep the light of freedom shining over half a continent through the dark years to come.
We owe them.