Friday, June 06, 2014

D-Day, H-Hour

At 0630 hours Normandy time, seventy 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.

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.
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.

It was perhaps the finest hour of American arms and on this anniversary today, as world leaders pose and pontificate and relate "their connection" to these events that took place before they were even conceived, nod and applaud politely, but mostly remember those whose connection to Normandy is through their blood in the grass and their bones in the soil.

Oh, and Airborne, Mr. Martin!


Bubblehead Les. said...

About most of the World Leaders who are there, you are correct. But I remind everyone that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Anne did serve in the Motor Transport Service during the later days of WW2, picking up the wounded from the fighting in Europe and taking them to Hospital. Which probably shocked a few Tommys when they saw who was driving.

And of course, Her Father refused to evacuate his Family from England when the War started, so the girls grew up during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz and the V1/V2 attacks.

I think she gets it, unlike the rest of the Political elite over there.

Scott J said...

I didn't remember it until later this morning. I let myself get distracted by national doughnut day.

I should go shoot the Garand sometime today.

Anonymous said...

"I just wanted to show that you don't have to sit there and die because you are old."

Hoo-ah!, Mr. Martin.

Pakkinpoppa said...

Most of the actual, "participants", will be dead soon, sadly. Even the ones who lied about their age and got parental permission to join up are soon to be gone.

I recall reading an article a few days ago about the men were...well, calculated losses. As in, "how many will we lose to take this section of beach, how many to take these cliffs with guns at the top, how many..." and I'm sure the same calculations were done with equipment, fuel, ammunition...

What a ghastly math problem.

Anonymous said...

Her Majesty is a different breed from today's 'leaders'.
There is an annual ceremony at the Cenotaph on the date of D-Day, along with several annual remembrances for other wars.
We tend to equate D-Day with the beaches Utah and Omaha, but there was also Gold, Sword, and Juno after all.

staghounds said...

As you well know but lots of people don't,more British and Canadians than Americans.

Also Poles, French, Australians, Greeks- plenty of (legally) German citizens landed that day, too.

The whole world helped.

Anonymous said...


Stated more correctly, the Royal Family remained in Buckingham Palace in the center of London throughout the war, rather than going to one of their country estates, such as Balmoral castle. Buckingham Palace was struck by bombs six or seven times during WWII.

Hundreds of thousands of children were evacuated to the countryside during the war. The Chronicles of Narnia begins with the relocation of the four children to the countryside.


Anonymous said...

If you want to be truly sobered by death in combat, remember this: more men died fighting at the Bloody Angle at the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse than died on DDay, including both Allies and Axis.

mikee said...

My high school principal in NC in the 1970s, a thin, tall elderly black man of immense gravitas, was in an all black "graves" outfit that arrived on Normandy on day 3 of the invasion, to clear the dead from the beaches.

I only know that, because Pop Miller explained to a few of us looking at a student art work exhibit one day, that he did not like a student drawing of Shakespeare's Ophelia floating in death after her drowning. He said he had seen too many real bodies on the French beaches and in the surf.

Pop Miller, God bless you.

Kristophr said...

The CBS news radio broadcast during the day of the invasion:

Kristophr said...

I'm happy to see Mr. Martin using a modern chute. Those T-10s were way too small and dangerous.

staghounds said...

Andy Rooney said it best-

"If you are young and not really clear what D-Day was, let me tell you, it was a day unlike any other. There have been only a handful of days since the beginning of time on which the direction the world was taking has been changed for the better in one 24-hour period by an act of man. June 6, 1944 was one of them.

What the Americans, the British, and the Canadians were trying to do was get back a whole continent that had been taken from its rightful owners by Adolf Hitler's German army. It was one of the most monumentally unselfish things one group of people ever did for another.

We all have days of our lives that stand out from the blur of days that have gone by, and the day I came ashore on Utah Beach, four days after the initial invasion, is one of mine.

As we approached the French coast, there were small clouds of smoke and sudden eruptions as German artillery blindly lobbed shells over the hills behind the beach. They were hoping to hit U.S. troops or some of the massive amount of equipment piled up on the shore.

Row on row of dead American soldiers were laid out on the beach just above the high-tide mark where it turned into weedy clumps of grass. They were covered with olive-drab blankets, just their feet sticking out at the bottom, their GI boots sticking out. I remember their boots - all the same on boys all so different.

No one can tell the whole story of D-Day because no one knows it. Each of the 60,000 men who waded ashore that day knew a little part of the story too well.

To them, the landing looked like a catastrophe. Each knew a friend shot through the throat, shot through a knee. Each knew names of five hanging dead on the barbed wire in the water 20 off shore, three who lay unattended on the stony beach as the blood drained from holes in their bodies.

They saw whole tank crews drowned when the tanks rumbled off the ramps of their landing craft and dropped into 20 feet of water.

There were heroes here no one will ever know because they're dead. The heroism of others is known only to themselves.

Across the Channel in Allied headquarters in England, the war directors, remote from the details of death, were exultant. They saw no blood, no dead, no dying. From the statisticians' point of view, the invasion was a success. The statisticians were right. They always are - that's the damned thing about it.

On each visit to the Beaches over the years, I've wept. It's impossible to keep back the tears as you look across the rows of markers and think of the boys under them who died that day.

Even if you didn't know anyone who died, your heart knows something your brain does not - and you weep.

If you think the world is selfish and rotten, go to the cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer overlooking Omaha Beach. See what one group of men did for another group on D-Day, June 6, 1944."

Robin said...

Everyone should go to Normandy at least once in their life and stand on those cliffs.

Sigman said...

I had the privilege of attending a talk by Stephen Ambrose on D Day (this was a year or so after Saving Private Ryan). Mr. Ambrose spoke a little about his role as a technical advisor for the movie and quoted extensively from his book. He was talking about Ken Russell of the 82nd Airborne whose stick landed in St Mere-Elise. Russell got hung up on the church as did John Steele. Ambrose was telling how Russell was a hero when an older gentleman on the front row stood and interrupted him. "I was no hero, my Sergeant (who as he lay dying killed a German about machine gun Russell) was the hero!" Ambrose said "Ladies and gentlemen, my I present Mr. Ken Russell." Everyone rose to honor Mr. Russell. Afterward, I had the honor of shaking Mr. Russell's hand.

He went to be with his comrades on June 6, 2009, the 55th anniversary of his jump.

Anonymous said...

Tam, Our nation still has young men and women who are willing and capable of such sacrifice and heroism. Those same young men and women don't have a nation or leadership capable of supporting them in such an endeavor. But you knew that. regards, Alemaster

Matt G said...

I believe that I'd like to sit and have a cuppa coffee or even a stronger drink with Mr. Martin. He took that jump alone, when so many would have done it tandem. His flare was good, and he just lay back into the tall grass.

Very nice.

I wish that I believed that our nation still had it in us.

Light29ID said...

As a soldier who served in the 29th for nine years until my retirement, the D-Day invasion is a proud and indelible memory on all who serve or who have served in the 29th. But it's the follow on actions that really bled the 29th. By the time the 29th had captured and cleared St. Lo the Division has suffered almost 100% casualties. The most telling is when MG Charles H. Gerhardt addressed men of the 116th Infantry after the fall of St.Lo in July. He asked for a show of hands of who had landed on June hands went up.

Rob said...

Well written Tam. At 'Into immortality' a dew hairs stood up.

Rob said...

*sigh*... few.