Tuesday, June 5, 2018

D-Day, June 6, 1944 : Their Heroic Sacrifice

D-DAY, JUNE 6, 1944. OPERATION OVERLORD. On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops. • • • WHAT DOES THE 'D' IN D-DAY MEAN? This is the most frequently asked question by visitors to The National WWII Museum. Many people think they know the answer : designated day, decision day, doomsday, or even death day. Our answer, like many answers in the field of history, is not so simple. Disagreements between military historians and etymologists about the meaning of D-Day abound. Here are just two explanations. In Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day, June 6, 1944 : The Climactic Battle of World War II, he writes : "Time magazine reported on June 12 [1944] that “as far as the US Army can determine, the first use of D for Day, H for Hour was in Field Order No. 8, of the First Army, AEF, issued on Sept. 20, 1918, which read, ‘The First Army will attack at H-Hour on D-Day with the object of forcing the evacuation of the St. Mihiel salient.’” In other words, the D in D-Day merely stands for Day. This coded designation was used for the day of any important invasion or military operation. For military planners (and later historians), the days before and after a D-Day were indicated using plus and minus signs : D-4 meant four days before a D-Day, while D+7 meant seven days after a D-Day. In Paul Dickson’s War Slang, he quotes Robert Hendrickson’s Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins : "Many explanations have been given for the meaning of D-Day, June 6, 1944, the day the Allies invaded Normandy from England during World War II. The Army has said that it is 'simply an alliteration, as in H-Hour.' Others say the first D in the word also stands for 'day,' the term a code designation. The French maintain the D means 'disembarkation,'[débarquement in French] still others say 'debarkation,' and the more poetic insist D-Day is short for 'day of decision.' When someone wrote to General Eisenhower in 1964 asking for an explanation, his executive assistant Brigadier General Robert Schultz answered : “General Eisenhower asked me to respond to your letter. Be advised that any amphibious operation has a ‘departed date;’ therefore, the shortened term ‘D-Day’ is used.” Brigadier General Schultz reminds us that the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, was not the only D-Day of World War II. Every amphibious assault -- including those in the Pacific, in North Africa, and in Sicily and Italy -- had its own D-Day. • • • 2018 -- THE 74TH ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY. The US Army published an article on Monday about the village of Tournières, which, like many other small French municipalities during WWII, was heavily occupied by German forces and very unaware of its fate. However, it would later realize that the name General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his command post First Advance Headquarters Supreme Allied Expeditionary Force Headquarters, known today as Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, US Army Europe, would forever be a part of its history. This year marks the 74th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 -- most commonly known as D-Day. The events of D-Day forged partnerships and reinforced transatlantic bonds that remain strong today. Overall, US service members from 20 units in Europe and the US will participate in events and ceremonies in almost 40 locations throughout the Normandy region of France as part of Joint Task Force Normandy 74 until June 7. US Army Europe Soldiers, WWII veterans, local leaders and residents gathered here at the General Eisenhower Monument on June 2 for a wreath-laying ceremony to pay homage to the memory of the Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice for liberation of the people in this region of France. Tournières, liberated June 9, 1944, served as the hub for the first military command post on the European continent from August through September 1944. Serving as guest speakers for the momentous occasion was US Army Europe Commanding General, Lieutenant General Christopher Cavoli and Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of the late Gen. Eisenhower. General Cavoli said : "It is a privilege, not least, because of the patch I wear as the commanding general of US Army Europe. It is similar to the patch that General Eisenhower's headquarters used; in fact, we inherited directly the history of his headquarters. Every time I put on this patch, it reminds me of the sacrifice of the 'Greatest Generation' as they brought peace to Europe. It reminds me of the huge price that the United States, France and all of our allies paid to liberate this continent." General Cavoli went on to explain the symbolism of the patch he and all the Soldiers of U.S. Army Europe wear on their uniforms every day : "The symbolism of the patch is important and powerful. It began with a Norman shield, which was originally black, representing the occupied continent; the flaming sword is the sword of freedom, the sword of liberation and the sword of justice; the rainbow contains the colors of the national flags of the alliance. All of this is below a blue sky -- the symbol of a peaceful future for Europe." General Eisenhower's granddaughter and newly appointed honorary citizen of Tournières offered the same message as General Cavoli before unveiling the design of the new Eisenhower Memorial, currently under construction in Washington, DC : "The new design will display the beaches of Normandy in peacetime. It will be important for all of us as this memorial will link forever in the American mind our deepest connection to this part of France. It will serve to symbolize for all of America…the vital importance of our alliance." General Cavoli emphasized the importance of this event and those taking place over the following days : "Celebrating commemorations of the liberation of this continent is very important. It serves as a reminder to ourselves, the cost of liberty and the price we've paid as a country along with our allies, for the freedom we all enjoy today." • • • THE FAMOUS FRENCH VILLAGE, SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE. US Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, WWII veterans, local leaders and residents gathered here at the Airborne Monument in the town square on May 31 to kick off the week-long commemoration and pay homage to the memory of the Americans who helped turn the tide of WWII. Sainte-Mere-Eglise was the first town in France to be liberated. Major General Michael E. Kurilla, the 82nd Airborne commanding general spoke at the commemmoration : "Our Paratroopers had never met the people of this town, yet a permanent bond was formed in fire when the first paratrooper landed here on the morning of June 6th 1944. All around this town today we see that bond in our remembrance of that defining moment." • I have walked through Sainte-Mere-Eglise, which translates to "Holy Mother Church," and it is a uniquely moving experience. For the 82nd Airborne Division, it is a place of sanctuary. General Kurilla said : "Our heroes are honored here. The Double A patch flies all over this town. Today, 74 years later, the world turns its eyes to the small French town that flew that American flag and those of us today who wear this patch…will continue to carry out the legacy started here." But, Sainte-Mere-Eglise was merely a point on a map for paratroopers on the night of June 5th 1944. It was a piece of geography for which they would risk their lives. They boarded aircraft knowing if they did not succeed here, the Germans would hold on for years longer. General Kurilla explained : "This place is so much more than a military objective now. Every year around this time, the grateful eyes of the free and the hopeful eyes of those who wish to be free turn here....The world looks here for calm in the storm of a dangerous, confusing world," Kurilla said. "The world looks here for an example of the love that conquers hate. The world looks here to honor this place and its moment." In an earlier ceremony, General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, praised former Sainte-Mere-Eglise Mayor Alexandre Renaud and his legacy to honor those American Soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice : "Alexandre dedicated his life to this city…capturing the heroic acts of airborne Soldiers and average citizens alike. He rebuilt this city, not just with brick and stone, but with books and stories that provide priceless record of this city's revival." Scaparotti then turned to the paratroopers and said : "This is what history calls us to do -- to carry on the task, to continue the work, to carry forward the great and noble undertaking, to serve the cause of freedom. You prepare for your future by understanding the past. You carry on the All-Americans' legacy, legacy forever bound to Sainte-Mere-Eglise, a legacy proudly shared." This year marks the 73rd anniversary of the infamous D-Day landings, which took place on June 6, 1944. U.S. Army paratroopers from 173rd Airborne Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 82nd Airborne Division, gathered with Scaparrotti and foreign military, local French nationals, family and friends to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Iron Mike Memorial site in remembrance of the sacrifices made on that fateful June day. • Last year on the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, a special commemmoiration was held at the he statue called "Iron Mike," which evokes the brave and resilient reputation of the American paratroopers and infantrymen who lost their lives in this area of France during the D-Day operation. The Memorial site is located in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, near the La Fiere Bridge, where an intense battle took place from June 6 -- 9, 1944. Approximately 254 Allied soldiers died and 525 were wounded during this particular combat incident as part of the larger liberation of Normandy. General Scaparotti was there for the ceremony, and spoke : "The Battle of La Fiere was the most significant operation of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II. It was also the costliest small-unit action in the history of the US Army. This 500-yard stretch of causeway transformed a unit, defined its character and inspired an Army." The small bridge over the Merderet River served as a strategic point for the Americans to expand their beachhead in Normandy. The Germans, however, wanted to gain control of the bridge in order to break up the Allied landing at Utah Beach. Even though the Americans were lightly armed, the Germans were never able to take the bridge. General Scaparotti said : "Several hundred airborne warriors seized a causeway that helped free a continent and end a war." The National Commander of the American Legion, Charles Schmidt, noted that each of the attendees and participants who gathered at the Memorial stood in the same place as those who fought and died for the liberation of Normandy during World War II : "Our promise is that no matter how many years pass the world will never forget their sacrifices. We as a nation are committed to this memory." • • • DEAR READERS, General George S. Patton, Jr. is one of the most analysed, dissected, and either revered or detested, generals in American, and perhaps world, history. The men who served under him in the Third Army were, some of them, as divided about him as was the rest of the world. But, in everything that has been said and written, nobody has ever labeled George Patton as a poor troop commander. He was one of the best America has ever produced. • Here is part of the speech he gave to his troops in England on June 5, 1944, just before they embarked for the beaches of Normandy : "You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you right here today would die in a major battle. Death must not be feared. Death, in time, comes to all men. Yes, every man is scared in his first battle. If he says he's not, he's a liar. Some men are cowards but they fight the same as the brave men or they get the hell slammed out of them watching men fight who are just as scared as they are. The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared." • But, General Patton, for all his rough language and almost superhuman demands on his troops -- in the same speech, Patton said : "My men don't dig foxholes. I don't want them to. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving. And don't give the enemy time to dig one either. We'll win this war, but we'll win it only by fighting and by showing the Germans that we've got more guts than they have; or ever will have....I don't want to get any messages saying, 'I am holding my position.' We are not holding a Goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything....Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy....I believe in the old and sound rule that an ounce of sweat will save a gallon of blood..." -- General Patton was a religious man, a Christian, who wrote this prayer to be included in a book for soldiers and sailors : "God of our fathers, who by land and sea have ever lead us to victory, please continue your inspiring guidance in this the greatest of all conflicts. Strengthen my soul so that the weakening instinct of self-preservation, which besets all of us in battle, shall not blind me to my duty to my own manhood, to the glory of my calling, and to my responsibility to my fellow soldiers. Grant to our armed forces that disciplined valor and mutual confidence which insures success in war. Let me not mourn for the men who have died fighting, but rather let me be glad that such heroes have lived. If it be my lot to die, let me do so with courage and honor in a manner which will bring the greatest harm to the enemy, and please, oh Lord, protect and guide those I shall leave behind. Give us the victory, Lord." • It is soldiers like George Patton who have won all wars, and all of America's wars. Some of them are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France, located in Colleville-sur-Mer, on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, established by the US First Army on June 8, 1944 as the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. When you are in France on a vacation, forgo Paris for two days and go to the Normandy D-Day beaches. Go to Colleville-sur-Mer. There, you will understand what it means to be American. The Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel holds the graves of more than 9,300 US servicemen who died in the D-Day invasion or subsequent missions. • May God grant them the peace and rest so gracefully won by their heroic sacrifice.

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