Today is the 67th anniversary of D-Day. The invasion of Fortress Europe via the beaches of Normandy, France. After a very successful feint and misinformation campaign by the Allies regarding Pas-de-Calais (which went so far as to even include rubber, inflated fake tanks, wooden cut-outs, and real troop movements) the largest amphibious assault team every assembled left the shores of the United Kingdom and headed across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy. While the majority of troops who landed on the beaches were from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, there were also troops from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.
Around 156,000 troops landed in Normandy that day. 73,000 we from the US. 23,240 at Utah Beach, 34,250 at Omaha Beach, where my father came ashore, and 15,500 Airborne troops. Allied troops also landed at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. Five beachheads total. It took some 6,939 vessels to get them there, 4,126 landing ships alone — mostly the famed Higgins Boats. Some 867 gliders, 11,590 aircraft flying over 14,000 sorties. By D+5, over 326,000 troops were ashore.
As Pvt. Charles Neighbor, 29th Division, Omaha Beach said of D-Day: “As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down I became a visitor to hell.“.
The fighting was brutal, prolonged, and often hand-to-hand. In the first day alone, Allied deaths are estimated at 4,414, of which 2,499 were US soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Plus 3,184 US wounded and 1,928 US MIAs. These figures do not include the estimated 12,000 deaths leading up to the invasion as preparations were being made for Operation Neptune, Operation Overlord, and the Battle of Normandy.
The numbers boggle the mind! The loss beyond belief. The fighting must have been beyond anything we can imagine.
The best sites I have found for information on D-Day is the National D-Day Memorial at http://www.dday.org. Also the World War Two Museum is a terrific site at http://www.nationalww2museum.org. They are both excellent sources of information on this momentous event in world history.
My father rarely spoke of his wartime service. Only really once, later in his life, when he asked my children and me to go for an unexpected walk with him late one night. He said he needed to tell us what happened and that my children especially needed to know the “hell of war”. He spoke to us for hours that night, out under the stars. Tears still fill my eyes as I write this recalling that dark night, in the still, listening to his voice as he recounted the horrors of his years at war. He was a 1st LT in the Infantry. First to die, he used to say.
He recalled to us that night how he turned to his troops as the ramp fell and screamed “After me, men!” He stepped off the ramp and sank to the bottom of the ocean well over his head. His Higgins boat has landed on a small sand bar. His first step into hell and he almost drown. The stories only got more frightening after that. Nine months as a Graves Registration Officer. A liberator of Langenstein Concentration Camp. All kinds of hell in-between.
So on this anniversary of D-Day, please recall the sacrifices made by so many.
Take a moment and say a prayer of thanks as you head into your day, free to pursue your life, in part thanks to those who fought on this bloody day 67 years ago.
Thank you for your walk and talk that night, Dad, and rest in peace.
Thanks for reading and now,
Onward To Our Past,