Thursday, June 6, 2013

To The Boys Of Normandy

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the Allied Invasion Of Europe, on June 6th, 1944.  We know it as D-Day. 

By the way, did you ever wonder what the D stood for in D-Day?  Well, the truth is--- nothing.  The military loves double-speak; Every operation has a day it is planned to start and that day is called the D- as in Day.  But you didn't say, "Hey, when is the D?"  It would be said, "When is D-Day for the operation?"  Likewise with the hour.  It is called H-Hour.  So every invasion during WWII had a D-Day and an H-Hour, but history has designated June 6th as the ultimate D-Day.  It's kind of like how Civil War buffs know all about places like The Cornfield (Antietam) and The Peach Orchard (Gettysburg), like no other peach orchards and cornfields ever existed.

War is a game of cat and mouse.  If you are on the offense, your job is to surprise the enemy.  If you are on the defense, your job is to try to figure out every possibility the enemy can use so you won't be surprised.  We had a little secret against the Germans.  Actually, it was the Ultra Secret.  We had been intercepting German communiques for years, which meant we knew exactly what they were expecting of us.  Our job was to do the opposite.

The Germans expected us to cross the English Channel from Britain to France at its narrowest point: We chose a longer route.

They figured we'd choose a nice, flat area to land:  We chose bluffs and cliffs.

They thought we'd cross at high tide:  We chose low tide.

They were thinking we'd come over at night with no moon:  We chose a full moon.

The military brass also planned the invasion to the Nth degree.  The millions of young U.S. soldiers who'd been milling about England for two years were trained over and over again on scurrying into landing craft and storming beach heads and rocky cliffs and bluffs.  Each unit had a designated spot to land in Normandy and were given specific training for their spot.  After all, you couldn't just dump a few thousand soldiers on the beach and then say, "There you go, boys-- have at it!"  Each soldier had his responsibility, and it was drilled into him time and again.  So, that and figuring out boat assignments, air strikes, Naval bombardments and targets kept the Allied High Command busy for months.

The planners knew that they only had a three day window for the moon and tides to be just right.  If they missed that chance it would be months before they could try again.  What they couldn't count on was the weather.  After the troops had been loaded into thousands of all kinds of vessels, a storm blew through the Channel, stalling everything for two days.  But at the last possible moment, the weather broke for a spell, and the attack was on.

And from that point on almost nothing went right.

Ships had drifted off-course and landed the troops in the wrong spot.  Even after a shelling that was supposed to drive them out, the Germans put up a killing fight.  The soldiers who had been tossed about in their boats for two days, and who were mostly sea-sick, were weighed down with ninety pounds of ammo as they tried to wade through the bone-chilling water to get to the beach.  Many drowned in the attempt.  By the time the men got to the beach, they were disoriented, soaked, exhausted, and in many cases leader-less.  They were also pinned down by a murderous fire from German machine guns.  In essence, thousands of young men had been thrown on the beach and told, "Have at it, boys!"

What they did next wasn't a testimony on how preparation and training makes all the difference, but more on how quick thinking, initiative and bravery can overcome a seemingly hopeless position.  Quite simply, they did what they had to do to win the battle, whether they were trained for the task, or not.  Soldiers who had never been trained with certain weapons had to figure out in a hurry how to use it.  Dozens of men who didn't know each other, or have a moment of training together, coordinated their efforts to take out German bunkers.  It was as remarkable a feat as any trained Army ever accomplished.  Oh, and did I mention that for almost every man there, this was their first combat experience of any kind?

The rest, as they say, is History.

The generation who did all that-- for us-- are almost all gone now.  It dates me I know, but when I was a kid they were our school teachers, cops, barbers and such.  I remember playing a game of catch with an uncle and his buddy who were WWII vets.  They have since passed on.  If I live to a normal old age, I will see a day when there will be no World War II veterans left alive.

We observe and honor veterans on Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day and all, but I've always felt we should remember the dates that mean so much to our history.  Days such as Pearl Harbor Day, V-E Day, or V-J Day don't really mean much anymore.  But they should. 

And for what they did, we can thank the boys of Normandy.

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