Saturday, June 6, 2009

D Day

On this day, 65 years ago, long before my lovely case manager, Erin was born, or even myself, the largest single-day amphibious invasion of all time took place, beginning at six-thirty in the morning, on the beaches of Normandy, France. This invasion was in response to Nazi Germany's subjugation of most of Europe and it's air attacks of Great Britain, and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, three and a half years earlier. Over 5,000 allied ships were involved, with 160,000, American, British, Canadian, Australian, and troops from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland participating. 11,590 allied aircraft supported the invasion.
Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy.
The invasion was a success, and along with the allied invasion of Italy the following year, and the persistence of the Russian Army to Germany's east, it paved the way for the Nazi's eventual defeat, the suicide of Adolf Hitler, and the liberation of his infamous network of concentration (death) camps. The estimated total of deaths endured during World War II, both in Europe and Southeast Asia, lie somewhere between 50 to 70 million.
The military term, "D- Day," simply means the actual day that a major event takes place, given certain variables, and can be applied to other military operations as well. Since the invasion of Normandy was the largest in history, the Normandy invasion and D- Day are often synonymous.
If you would like to actually see this invasion, and vicariously experience what it was like on that day, I recommend two films, 1962's The Longest Day, and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.
The landing craft pictured above is of a type that I was trained to drive while serving in the navy. It is relatively easy to operate when not being simultaneously shot at. One forms up in a wave of similar craft (a horizontal row of landing craft), you drive up on to the beach as far as you can, drop the front ramp, deploy your troops or equipment, bring the ramp back up, throw the boat into reverse and back out a bit, steer to the right and get the hell out of there so the next wave can come in. I've been told that the life expectancy of a driver of such craft in combat is about ten minutes, accordingly I chose to serve during a time the United States was not at war.
My father, Ray, was not so fortunate, and served in Europe during World War II. He was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. I am uncertain of what part he may of had in the invasion of Normandy, but I do know that he participated in the Siege of Bastogne, a town in Belgium, which was surrounded by German forces in December of 1944. Famously, when asked to surrender the American commander, General McAuliffe in a written, one word statement, replied "Nuts." It had to be explained to the Germans that this was a term of defiance, and that American surrender would not be coming anytime soon. On the day after Christmas, elements of General Patton's Third Army were able to break through to Bastogne and relieve the soldiers there.
My father obviously survived World War II, and returned home on the Queen Mary, which is now parked in nearby Long Beach, where I've visited it myself several times. He was a war profiteer, bringing back with him a total of one German Luger (a hand gun), and an eight piece set of china, which my dear mother would routinely bring out each Thanksgiving.
Our President, Barack Obama, along with French President Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, honored those who served, and died in the Invasion of Normandy at Omaha Beach today, one of the invasions spear heads. He said these words: "Friends and veterans, what we cannot forget — what we must not forget — is that D-Day was a time and a place where the bravery and selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century. At an hour of maximum danger, amid the bleakest of circumstances, men who thought themselves ordinary found it within themselves to do the extraordinary."
Nearby, 10,000 white crosses, perfectly aligned, marked the graves of US soldiers.
President Obama's grandfather, Stanley Dunham, arrived on Omaha Beach six weeks after D-Day. Dunham's brother, Ralph got there four days after the initial invasion. And his great uncle, Charles Payne, helped liberate one of Buchenwald's (a death camp) satellite prisons in 1945, and came with him to Normandy today.
The President was the first US President to visit Buchenwald in Germany yesterday, where over 56,000 prisoners died mostly by being worked to death and starved, but executions as well were routine, either by a bullet in the back of the neck, hanging, or medical experimentation.
Obama said these words: "More than half a century later, our grief and our outrage over what happened have not diminished."
Buchenwald "teaches us that we must be ever-vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that others' suffering is not our problem, and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests." He added: "It's also important for us, I think, to remember that the perpetrators of such evil were human, as well, and that we have to guard against cruelty in ourselves."
I would suggest to the President, that the evil deeds of our own must be investigated and remembered as well.
There are those who deny that the horrors perpetrated in Buchenwald and the other death camps, never took place, like Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"To this day, there are those who insist the Holocaust never happened," Obama said. "This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history."
Yes it is true that our young people should be taught, and remember the lessons of the Holocaust and World War II, as too many died due to the follies of their national leaders.
I meet too many college graduates who know little of that war's history. And what happens when we forget the past?
Too often we are doomed to repeat it.

No comments:

Post a Comment