Saturday, June 6, 2020

D-Day 1944

 (This is an updated repost of an article I first posted on Liberty Hollow in 2013- H)

June 6th 1944.  76 years ago today, men from the United States, Canada, Australia, England, and assorted contingents of men from other nations invaded German-occupied France.  It was the most colossal amphibious operation in human history, and was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.  160,000 troops transported and supported by 5,000 naval vessels of all sorts landed in Normandy, France.

Much has been written about D-Day, and much deserves to be.  Various films have been made about it;  I am told by those familiar with infantry combat that the most realistic of these is "Saving Private Ryan;"  one grizzled combat veteran once told me that the only thing missing from that movie was the smell, a mixture of blood, smokeless powder, high explosives and shit. 

I was too young to remember D-Day, but I do remember the veterans who assembled every year at the small New England drop zone I used to jump at.  They were 82nd and 101st Airborne, some of the 24,000 men who had been dropped, by parachute and glider, into the German rear areas to disrupt the inevitable German counter-attack.  They knew that this was likely to get them killed, but this was their job, and they went ahead and did it despite a colossally FUBARed drop which scattered them all over Normandy.  They were fighting men, and once on the ground they moved to the sound of the guns and fought, cutting roads, telephone and telegraph lines, and German throats.  I never had the temerity to ask them what it was like, to be dropped behind enemy lines, in pitch darkness with flak guns and radar equipped night fighters shooting at you before the light turned green.  I vaguely sensed that I had no right to ask that question, to ask these men, all in their late 50s and 60s when I saw them, to relive the terrors of their D-Day experience, although as a young man who had not 'seen the elephant' I was desperately curious about where they had been and what they had done and seen. Even then, I knew something of history, and my curiosity almost exceeded my good manners.  Almost, but not quite.

I was honored to pack their chutes for them, though, forgoing the 5 bucks ( the equivalent of 20 or more today) I usually got for packing a main.  It was little enough, but it was a tiny token of respect for men who had, perhaps terrified to the point of pissing or shitting their pants, gone ahead and done what had to be done, who had honored their oath and their comrades, and who came out, once a year on the anniversary of that tremendous event, to remember those who would remain forever young in their memories, those who did not come back. They remembered too those comrades who had survived the drop but who could now no longer join them, and they gathered to reassert, for just a few minutes, the spirit that animated the All-Americans and Screaming Eagles in 1944.  
After the jump, they'd toast the memory of their comrades, take off their gear, and go back to the World again, to their families and friends, and their civilian lives. Year after year, they came out to make another jump in memory of their younger selves and their comrades, and each year there were fewer jumpers.  Finally, one year, there were none.  It has been well over 35 years now since last I saw the remnants of the Screaming Eagles and the All-Americans of D-Day.  They are all likely gone now, and few people remember them, who they were and what they did.

But I have never forgotten them, nor will I.  Nor will I forget that these men and their buddies, who were younger when they jumped into the chaos that was Normandy in 1944 than I was when I packed their chutes 35 years later, had  done what needed to be done.  Despite all of their fear, their confusion, their unit cohesion having been totally broken down, and the chaos that is combat, they fought. Many of them fought beside total strangers, many of them to the death, for various reasons, for freedom,  to honor their oaths,  to end the totalitarian police state that was Nazi Germany, for their buddies. To survive.  The key thing was that when it was needed, and no matter how screwed up things became, they fought.  They fought effectively; they killed people, people who needed killing, not because those who they killed were necessarily bad individuals, but because they served an evil cause. 

So, too, did the men who landed on Utah, Sword, Omaha, Gold and Juno beaches; they killed men that needed killing, because those they killed served an evil cause, because those who they killed, many of them decent, religious men,  (some of whom knew that they served evil)  would not move out of the way and let them pass. 

So when I think about D-Day, I think about men, lonely and isolated in the darkness, some probably scared shitless, who dug deep inside themselves and found the courage in the midst of chaos to seek out well-trained, armed men who needed to be killed.  And then they sought them out.  And killed them.  It is not those who died that I think of most, although they deserve our deepest respect, but rather those survivors who killed and lived to kill again. Those killers made the difference on D-Day, and afterwards, until VE and VJ Day.  It is solely because of those men and many others like them that the horror of collectivist totalitarianism was defeated, for a time.  
Now we face that horror again, not only abroad, but here in these presently united States, not in the form of an invading foreign army, but as a cultural cancer, threatening everything we hold dear. You, gentle reader, who may also be scared, alone, and not sure who or where your buddies are,  must decide what you will do with those who serve an evil cause. Will you honor the memory and follow the example of those who fought, on D-Day and many other days in many other places, for liberty and against evil?

So, today, and other days, consider the lessons of D-Day.  And hope that those presently exercising authority do so as well.

To all who serve the Light,



Bill said...

Let us never forget, but I fear most have.

Historian said...

@bill "those who do not study History are doomed to repeat it."


"History may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes."

With regard to all who serve the Light,

AuricTech Shipyards said...

The Rule of LGOPs*:

After the demise of the best Airborne plan, a most terrifying effect occurs on the battlefield. This effect is known as the rule of the LGOPs. This is, in its purest form, small groups of pissed-off 19-year-old American paratroopers. They are well-trained, armed to the teeth, and lack serious adult supervision. They collectively remember the Commander's intent as "March to the sound of the guns and kill anyone who is not dressed like you..."

...Or something like that.

Happily they go about the day's work....

(Sadly, the battalion from the 82nd Airborne Division with which I once deployed [2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment**] was still reconstituting from its participation in the Anzio landing, and was thus unavailable for Operation Overlord.)

*Little Groups of Paratroopers.

**"Devils in Baggy Pants." You just have to love it when your unit's nickname comes from the enemy....

USAF Retired said...

My dad was there as an ordinance officer, trying to shot down attacking fighters. He liked guns, but after the war his collection rusted. He never talked about the war. My Grandpa, an ordinance officer, a retired 3 star admiral, the guy who helped raise me, never spoke a word about war. I only saw him in uniform in official pictures. I went to the Washington DC Navy yard at the time I was station at HQANG and saw the Reichmuth Building and his picture on the wall. One of many.