Sunday, June 06, 2010


D-Day. Looking back, the outcome seems inevitable; but at the time, it wasn't. Gen. Eisenhower had two messages prepared when the invasion began. The unused one was an apology for the failure.
Is there a person reading this who hasn't seen the opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan? In a way, we've all been through D-Day. But no one would be foolish enough to say watching the movie comes close to the real thing. The film couldn't capture the briny smell of the ocean, mingling with the vomit in the bottoms of the landing craft. The sulfer smell of explosives and spent gunpowder. The coppery smell of blood. One can only imagine the stinging sea spray, or the concussive push of displaced air, or the bumps, bruises, scraps and cuts that came from the mad scramble off the beach.
How can one imagine the emotions of uncertainty, religious awe, profound loss, duty, survival instinct, raw anger? You can't, unless you've been there.

The National D-Day Memorial is not in Washington DC. It resides in Bedford, a small town in Virginia. This town has the sad disinction of suffering the highest per capita loss of life in the D-Day invasion. It sacrificed 19 men that day for the liberation of Europe, the defeat of Facisim, and -- yes -- our freedom. 19 men may not seem like a lot, but this small town essentially lost an entire generation of young men.
The young men all knew one another very well through their whole lives. They joined the 29th Division (Blue and Grey) of the National Guard. National Guard service was practically a rite of passage in the small town, and in more peaceful times, it was seen as a way to earn a little extra money, get together with the guys, and drink. Times change...
The 29th Division's swirled Blue and Grey emblem was reflective of the fact that soldiers in the Division came from states from both sides of the Civil War. The 29th Division was chosen to spearhead the Normandy invasion because the troops were green. They had never seen combat. This was deemed an advantage for the assault because they lacked the certain knowledge of how bad combat really is. The chance of them balking was somewhat lower. Of course, the command had to know the casualties would be massive, and using battle-hardened veterans in the first wave would be even more wasteful.

I know we just had Memorial Day, but pause again and consider the undertaking and sacrifice of D-Day, a true hinge moment in history. Gen. Patton once said, "It is wrong and foolish to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived." I thank God such men lived, and that so many of them were gathered together on that one awful day in June.

1 comment:

Budd said...

great post and great quote from Patton.