D-Day + 65 (Years)

Hell of a thing they managed, now long ago enough that the day itself qualifies for Social Security. The men involved are all in their 80s or 90s now if they are indeed still around; it’s passing from living memory at an accelerating rate. This isn’t to suggest it will disappear — World War II is America’s favorite war, the one in which we save the world by defeating those damn Nazis (and, no, we can’t hear the remnants of the Soviet Union clearing their throats indignantly in the background, why do you ask?), and this was the moment we designated as the beginning of its end. It’ll be with us for a while. But there’s a difference between what we know about and what people lived through. Fewer and fewer people have lived through this.

67 thoughts on “D-Day + 65 (Years)

  1. My mother was a teenager living in London from ’39-’43. She was a volunteer nurse’s aid. She went on to become an actual nurse and actually met my father while serving in the Royal Navy on a hospital ship off the coast of Korea.

  2. It is also my wedding anniversary. I can’t decide if this is an omen or a harbinger. I mean, really.

    My great-grandfather went through D-Day as a Navy man, and from what I managed to glean over the years he did not have a good time of it. He almost never spoke of it, but sometimes my great-grandmother would talk of her sheer terror that entire year. They had a British newspaper announcing V-E Day lacquered to a plaque and mounted rather prominently, and I’ve always wondered if it was meant to be reassurance.

  3. Life is like that. Our reality becomes our memory, and ultimately, our memory becomes our history.

    My hat is off to all those who chose to put their lives on the line for others, then and now.

  4. My mother’s father repaired planes for the RAF and was stationed in Egypt. Sadly he is no longer with us but it’s always been a poin.t of pride for me that he was involved in some way in WWII

  5. My MiL lived in London during the Blitz (as she does now), and my FiL was in the Merchant Marine. Their stories are always interesting.

    Still, one of the things I’ve been thinking today is that some of us, those who are old enough that much of ‘our’ history includes growing up with the stories and imagery (including films) of WWII are in many ways very lucky. There has not been such a war in my lifetime. That’s good.

    But also, there has not been such a war in my lifetime, where we (pacifists aside) knew that the cause really was just, and the action was necessary. I wonder what it is like to be a younger person, whose first remembrances (again, with all the cultural imagery) of war start with Vietnam, or the Falklands, or even the first Gulf War. These are the same people whose world view has been framed by being raised in the post-Nixon, and really, the post-Reagan/Thatcher eras. I wonder if that is really the generation gap that counts?

  6. For all the things I dislike about the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, that opening scene as the US troops storm ashore against an almost literal hail of bullets and artillery shells was the closest thing to actual combat a lot of people in this country have ever seen. It made them realize why the people they loved who had been there, and in other battles in other wars, were never able to tell them what it was like. The noise and the chaos of war are unimaginable if you haven’t experienced it, and that’s made it difficult for non-combatants to comprehend just how hellish it was, and why it marks everyone who’s been through it in ways that others can see but can’t understand or (often) cope with.

    To all those who have gone through that hell, and to those who died there, I give my thanks and my pledge to prevent, as much as is in my power, the need for more of my comrades to go there.

  7. On this day I like to ask people if the words “Utah Omaha Gold Juno Sword” mean anything at all to them…without Googling.

    I teach those who don’t. Or they can Google and educate themselves.

    It’s hard to come up with a day more critical to the freedoms we hold so dear. Those who stormed this beach gave up a lot; they were never the same again, though some recovered more than others. They were the Frodos of our age; they gave up everything so that we could have everything, and most of us live in ignorance of their sacrifice.

  8. John : World War II is America’s favorite war, the one in which we save the world by defeating those damn Nazis (and, no, we can’t hear the remnants of the Soviet Union clearing their throats indignantly in the background, why do you ask?)
    Well — at any rate, the United States of America did save France from the Nazis, and we’re not anywhere close to forget it here.

  9. My feelings are strangely mixed. As a Canadian, I recognize the sacrifice and the courage of the Allied soldiers. Then again, my father was in the Italian army at the time, i.e., one of the soldiers that Allies were shooting at. Life isn’t always easy.

  10. Six years ago this weekend, my wife and I visited France and the Normandy Beaches. Standing on the shore and looking down onto the beach where the soldiers landed was incredible. There is a ton of beach to cross and doing it under fire, well, yeah. It certainly won’t leave my mind any time in my life.

    I threw a couple pictures up on my own blog, but I’m not sure they do it justice. http://www.asymonte.com/?p=294

  11. My dad landed at Normandy on D-Day plus 6. He was the company clerk, had a portable typewriter strapped to his chest when he landed. He always liked telling the story of how that typewriter saved his life–at one point in the fighting it took a bullet for him. “Damn bullet destroyed the typewriter,” he would say with a straight face, adding, “after that I had to write out all the reports by hand.” He’d break into a big smile at that point, appreciating his own joke. When he was supplied with a replacement typewriter, he used it to write the daily letters he sent my mom to woo her into agreeing to marry him. Daddy died in 1981; I still miss him. Mama has often told me that it was his letters that made her fall in love with him. For more than one reason, if it hadn’t been for those typewriters, I wouldn’t be here today.

  12. The World War II memorial imposed upon the National Mall here in DC about 5 years ago is, unfortunately, ghastly. Not that there shouldn’t have been one, but not this design and not at this location. The Wikipedia entry “National World War II Memorial” has some good links to articles discussing the controversy surrounding its planning. I still remember the TV ads featuring Tom Hanks (a fellow my own age) that basically boiled down to, “Build this design right now so that there are still living veterans to see the war memorial.” I lost some respect for Hanks after that.

  13. gottacook@14

    Look at the BS that is still going on about the 9-11 memorial/building. As the phrase that wanders about the construction industry goes: “Sooner or later, you just have to shoot the architect/engeneer and build the damn building.” Roadblock of choice,of course, varies as per your firm type.

    Xopher@8

    No Google required although I admit I don’t remember which beach my greatuncle Irving landed on. I do remember that during the few times he discussed that day, he would always bitch about something or someone getting lost.

  14. Speaking of Google, they did a nice memorial for this on their front page. Oh wait, they didn’t, but they did do one for something else today.

  15. Bruce Cohen (@7), I have an uncle who never spoke of his WWII service until the recent spate of movies–Private Ryan, and the two Clint Eastwood films about the Pacific. Then, all of a sudden, it was as if someone had given him permission to speak–or maybe as if he suddenly thought that his kids and grandkids maybe would have a chance to “get” what he was talking about, I don’t know. But I’m grateful to Hollywood, for that, whatever they might or might not have gotten wrong.

    Xopher (@8), I read your “Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword” comment on Making Light, earlier, so I don’t know if I can answer your question fairly . . . but I think I’d have caught the reference even out of context (i.e., not on a blogpost about D-Day). I can’t say I can always repeat all of the names offhand, but “Omaha Beach” in particular has always been a bell-ringer for me, even as a kid.

  16. thank you, john. i too, am careful to remember important days like like D-Day on my blog. it was the defining moment of the 20th century. there was no exit strategy — win or die. if the invasion had failed, we would have lost the element of surprise in any later invasion. it’s doubtful that either roosevelt or churchill would still have been in power. and the germans would have subsequently made the V-2 rocket operational, against which there was no defense. it is very possible that hitler would have won WWII. quelle horreur !!

  17. Rys,

    I would argue that there was basically no way for the Germans to win (unless perhaps developing the Abomb) the war after the stalled Russian offensive. Their manpower reserves were too stretched, they were constantly losing production because of a labor supply (and not employing as many women in the workforce as other countries) and allied bombing. In fact, I would argue that they could not have beaten the Russians, even if the UK and the US had of withdrawn from the war. Russian industrial capacity was significantly higher than German and was improving with Germany having little ability to disrupt it unless a major offensive was successful across the Urals.

  18. One of my uncles was there on D-Day, but has never really talked about it at all. One of my cousins was lamenting this, especially because he’s in bad shape(aside from being elderly), and he wishes he had a little.

  19. My stepfather was Pacific Theater. He is in his late 80’s and walks with the help of a cane and two AFO’s (ankle foot orthosis). I thought they had to do with his age and the fact he’s 6’6″. I found out that most of it had to do with the shrapnel in his lower legs that couldn’t all be removed safely at the time. Grenade that killed three, injured him.

    I’m ex-Navy (Gulf War) and proud of my service but he has been dealing with pain and infirmity for over 60 years related to his service and I know not all of the pain is purely physical.

    I can’t think of anything else to say. I have to make a phone call back home now.

    Jeff S.

  20. It was fortunate that the UK and “her Empire”, as Churchill put it, were able to hold back the Nazis long enough for the US to be forced into the war.

    The 2nd Front — first in Italy and finally in Normandy — was something the Soviets were demanding for quite a while. I believe Stalin even threatened a separate peace, which would have been catastrophic for the Western Allies.

    There is a fascinating book I’ve just read on how Hitler could have won WWII had he let his generals run the show titled, appropriately enough, “How Hitler Could Have Won World War II” by Bevin Alexander. A fascinating read to see how many opportunities the Nazis had that were fortuitously ruined by Hitler. He also comments on the way in which the Allies could have more quickly ended the war had Patton been given more freedom or Montgomery actually been a bit less plodding.

    As a Canadian I remain in awe as to what Canadians accomplished during World War II and am glad the Allies won the day. And I’m glad they finally built a proper War Museum to honour our soldiers. It’s wonderful. More wonderful that its front lawns host a variety of festivals all summer long, a fantastic location to celebrate on aspect of our freedoms.

  21. The incredibly stupid thigns we do to each other.

    Makes me thing Douglas Admas was right – the dolphins are smarter, exactly because all they do is swim around, eat, sleep, and have sex every now and then. No buildings, no empires, no wars.

  22. If you haven’t read the D-Day book by Stephan Ambrose I highly recommend it. It turns out Spielberg let us off pretty easy with Saving Private Ryan. It was about 100 times worse than the movie makes it look.

    My grandfather was in the Pacific theater and was injured in the kamikaze attack on the USS Santee. That’s about all I know, he never would talk about it.

  23. That was meant to say that war itself is stupid – as is basically any violence that man ciommits against man. The exception being violence commited in sacrifice, risking yourself to stop others from coming to harm. That form of sacrifice is noble and inspiring.

  24. War is a horrible thing. Maybe someday our only experience with war will be in the history classes.

  25. The commemoration ceremonies today have brought a tear (or two) to my eye. My father served in the RAF in the Far East servicing Mosquito fighter-bombers, my mother worked in ammunition factories winding armatures for bombs and an uncle was in the Royal Navy, aboard a vessel shelling German positions on Omaha beach.

    Not to come across as too jingoistic, but (acknowledging the sacrifices made by U.S. forces), Britain stood alone for one long year after the fall of continental Europe. Without the sacrifices made at Dunkirk, by the RAF in the Battle of Britain and the people of Britain in the Blitz, victory in Europe would have been a magnitude more difficult. All this, of course, pales into insignificance compared with the losses endured by the citizens of the Soviet Union (despite the crimes of Stalin). D-Day may seem like ancient history to some, but we should never forget what was done to secure the liberties we take for granted today.

  26. My grandfather (who died in 1981) was with the first troops that freed the remaining prisoners in Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp that took the life of Ann Frank and thousands of others. He never talked about it. I found out about it years later from his widow. She said it took her 30 years of small bits of information to find out what happened and how bad it was.

    It is good that we now recognize the PTSD that veterans face and it is much more acceptable to talk about it and get treatment. It is bad that we still do such horrible things to each other.

  27. My father crossed the beach from the Atlantic in Nov. 42.

    He would never talk about it.

    His opinion of Patton was not printable.

  28. It’s a sad anniversary in the family this year: Grandpa was in the European theater, and he passed away on Thursday. He never talked about the war. My father didn’t even know about his bronze star until yours truly asked about the war as a curious fourth grader.

    @26 I think the best word to associate with war is awe – it is as awesome as it is awful. Whenever I see aerial footage of saturation bombing for example I am transfixed by the terrible majesty of destruction on that scale, and our ability to take it so lightly.

  29. Small correction: I was born three months after D-Day. Neither of us will be eligible for Social Security until we’re 66.

    My father was a young, newly minted Doctor during the Battle of the Bulge. He won a Silver Star, but he never got right when he came back.

    I often wonder if we would have entered Vietnam or any of the other insanities of the last 65 years if your grandfathers and my generation’s fathers had been more forthcoming about the realities of war. Most of us in the baby boom only knew World War II through John Wayne and Ronald Reagan movies.

    We all know how that turned out.

    Rick York

  30. My father was drafted 3 times during WWII, and every time was sent home, induction notice cancelled, because he ran a farm and the country needed the farm worse than they needed him in combat.

    However, he did have some captured German prisoners working on his farm for quite a while. They didn’t mind. They were all draftees and had no more use for Hitler than Americans did. They were happy to sit out the war working on a farm in Idaho. Sure beats a prison camp on the Russian Front.

  31. Heh, just yesterday a friend of mine in Croatia was talking about his kindergarten’s bomb shelter. (He’s 20 now.) #6 ADM’s comment brought that to mind.

  32. My grandfather was a mechanic for the AAF, stationed in England for most of the war. His oldest brother was turned away by the Army when he tried to enlist early on because he was a fireman and therefore needed at home. Two other brothers were in the Merchant Marine, where I gather they had some pretty terrifying experiences, and one in the Coast Guard. And his youngest brother, Joe, was with the 91st Infantry Division and was killed in action in Italy, September 22, 1944. He was 18. His brothers had conspired with him to spare their mother the knowledge that her favorite child was going into battle. I try not to think about what it must have been like when she was notified.

    The family stories make it sound like my grandfather spent most of the war getting up to crazy hijinks with his Air Force buddies. He was certainly busted down a rank for being a troublemaker, at any rate. But I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy even just working on those planes, watching so many people go out and never return. Unfortunately, he died 9 years ago, and I never got a chance to ask him about it.

  33. Twelve years ago I was taking a college history class in which a there was a D-Day veteran who was just taking classes to keep from getting bored.

    The classroom was right under one of those huge air conditioning units. In a hot, Houston September, we could actually see our breath in that room, & you had to put things on paper so that it wouldn’t blow away. Our instructor was a well respected historian known around the country, but he could not get the school to turn the AC down.

    One day, the old fellow announces, “I’ll take care of this,” & the next week the temperature was perfect. When our instructor asked the man what he’d done, our funny veteran announced, “I offered to show the dean where I’ve still got German shrapnel in my ass from D-Day.” He got a standing ovation.

  34. I’ve heard a few gripes today about Google’s tetris thing and such.

    It does rankle that people fail to give note (Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword indeed, xtopher).

    On balance, though, as utterly improper as it is for people to forget – I think all of us of 50-ish and below are damned lucky to never have had a World War on our hands, heads and hearts – it does also occasionally lead to such lapses. Possibly even a deliberate one, in the hope (however misguided) of putting war behind us.

    The alternative would have been worse – had WW2 gone the other way, we wouldn’t have Google to criticise, or any kind of freedom-based self-repairing datasharing network to enjoy.

    Or many other freedoms beside.

    So, Google humped the bunk, and my thanks for the rent paid in blood on those beaches and millions of other square miles besides that lets us have faux pas instead of weighted-glove “chats” with our commissars.

  35. Bruce Cohen @ 7 & COD @ 24: I went to see Saving Private Ryan the day it was released and was saddened by the number of older men having to leave the theater during the opening battle scenes. I had a chance to ask one of them after the movie about it and he confirmed my suspicion that he had walked out because he couldn’t handle the realism. He was a D-Day veteran and said the actual battle was far worse than could be portrayed, but SPR was the closest he had ever seen (or wanted to see).

    My maternal grandfather spent several years in North Africa and the Middle East with the Royal Army Service Corps shuttling supplies to the front and occasionally evacuating the wounded to hospitals. He and I traded war stories shortly after I returned from the Gulf War. I remember him telling me about a day he was driving an ambulance full of wounded soldiers when a German plane spotted their convoy. He and the medic had to scramble out of the ambulance and ended up hiding beneath it as the plane strafed them with total disregard for the red cross on the side of the vehicle.

    My stories by comparison were rather tame and nothing like the sacrifice he had to make. I told him of the air-conditioned shelter we worked in to repair communications equipment, with a mini-fridge where we kept our water cooled; the TV tent we had where we got to see recently released movies from Blockbuster Videos as well as the Super Bowl a week after it was played (the notorious wide-right kick by Scott Norwood); the microwave oven in the command center; being able to call home practically anytime we wanted (the privilege of being in a commo unit); the electric generators; the hot showers; etc. Other than living in a tent for a few months it was a pretty easy tour…

  36. Heh.

    John H @38, you’ve reminded me of something someone once asked me: “When do you think war games will be realistic enough?”

    “When they’re so realistic that nobody in their right mind would go to war” was my answer.

  37. My grandfather served in WWII. He told a lot of funny stories over the years about his service. He was the kind of guy who could take the most horrible thing and find a way to make it… less horrible. Find the one funny thing in it. Make it something that might have been horrible but at least could the the source of laughter.

    A few days before his death, by pure random chance, his former commander ended up in the hospital room beside my grandfather and talked to my uncle for a few minutes… and mentioned a few incidents from WWII that my grandfather had never shared.

    Grandpa found funny stories about storming the beaches on D-Day, and even he could never talk about some of his experiences. That’s what I think about on days like this.

  38. Oh heavens where to start? @6 yes, it was the last just war.

    Re: passing into history. In UK, there are just 2 (count ’em) veterans of WWI still allive. That war will soon be known only from records.

    My grandfather (father’s side) was at Jutland; my mothers father was in the RAF during WWII. My father joined the UK merchant marine in 1945 – he was really lucky, he is now 80. My friends stepfather was a prisoner of the japanese.

    The germans outproduced russia until late 1944 (i.e. after D-Day). The italians surrendered in 1943. Personally I think germany would have lost even if d-day had failed, but probably russia would have taken most or all of west europe.

    In June 1944 the Saipan campaign began on the same day that operation Overlord was launched. in 1944 no other power had the ability to launch 2 such ambitious operations so far apart. So, we brits may bitch, but in the end it really is true that america did win ww2. For that, the whole world is grateful.

  39. My Great-Great Uncle flew a Spitfire during the war. Sadly, he was shot down somewhere over France. Even though I never got to meet him, I’m always very proud that someone in the family was involved.

  40. I have visited the war cemetary on the river kwai. Words can’t do justice to that place.

  41. Typing out my last comment led me to Google the name of the battle in which my great uncle Joe died. I’d never heard of Futa Pass in any context other than Joe’s death, as I know pretty much nothing about the battles in Italy. In my Googling, I ran across a bunch of descriptions that called the taking of Futa Pass one of the “least costly” of the Gothic Line battles. To which I could only think, “Tell that to my great grandmother.” Or, for that matter, to my great aunt, Joe’s only younger sibling, who displayed his picture in her living room until she died. Cost is relative.

  42. I am a 33 year old Canadian. My memories of the Great Wars are limited in the family to my dad telling me over the years that my Uncle John.. (who dies when I was 7 or 8 or 9) was in world war one… I rememeber he lived in Rochester and I lived in Ottawa Ontario… When he died we got a ton of nuts and bolts and screws and nails… he hoarded building supplies. My Grandfather (who I knew) on my moms side ran a farm in Ontario he was in the military in WW2 but he was working on refueling plans and maintaining plains within 50 miles of his Napanee Ontario home.. My dad’s father was dismissed from the war effort for having flat feet. (he died when I was like 3 I never knew him). My Dad was born in 48 my mom in Dec 45.

    But as a Canadian I feel a real attachment to D-Day. I am far from militaristic… I would not normally even consider joining the military. In 1939, 40, 41,42.. I may well have volunteered if I was 17-30 years old. That was a different war than Vietnam or Korea or Iraq Desaert Storm or Bushes war. WWII was the war it was worthwile to fight.. I think If I was alive then I would ahve faught in it.. even though I hate war.. I hate militarism and I would be the last volunteer… I don’t need adventure…

    It is the Stnaley Cup Finals now in Hockey.. Canadians are pretty in to that.. Don Cherry.. The more than Madden of Canada brought up D-DAY tonight.. and Canadians. Canadians.. (and Aussies, Newfies and New Zealanders.. _ but Canadians were on the front lines… the first people on the beaches on D-Day.. tens of thousands died.. tend of thousands died or were horrednously injured to free ALL of EUROPE from the Nazis. Most on D-Day were volunteers… many.. like maybe 10% or more died on that day or the next few to free Europe and the world form the Nazis.. many were Canadian.. many were not…

    I think from any country… few were forced to be there almost all were volunteers… and they freed hundreds of millions.. they knew the risks… They were not in a vacuum… they knew they would fight… most volunteered. Those soldiers.. those men those many of them almost or actual children helped to free us to have blogs now.. Canadian, American, British, Aussies, other Europeans that escaped, New Zealanders… any of them… almost all volunteers.. almost all young and near or actual TEENAGERS…. they all fought to free ALL of us.. maybe 15% died that day or the few days after… another large number suffered for life from minjuries physical or mental….. our great-grandfathers, or grandfathers, our fathers…. maybe a very few of US….

    We shoudl salute them.. every day and especially every D-Day. At one point war was not a choice for the political class it was a necessity.. It was a choice for the soldiers and enough of our ansectors.. form out familys fought so we are free…. War sucks… it is tainted in unnessisary wars fought in the name of our countries.. if any war was needed it was WWII.

    Salute those soldiers… they are noble and deserve our salute not just on an anniversary but every day. If not for them.. and this is not just words… we might seriously be living as Nazis in a Nazi society.

  43. For some reason, everyone I knew who was in WW II was in the Pacific theater, not European. My great uncle was in the combat assault landings on Okinawa with the 6th Marine Division, and later combat landings in Korea and Vietnam.

    He and others had some things to say about equipment and tactics in D-day, but always respected the people who carried them out.

    It takes a lot to get in the boat, and a lot more to get out of it and charge up the beach with people shooting down at you.

  44. My grandparents and parents are Filipino, and lived through WWII as bystanders and combatants during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Never really did ask them much about it, but I can’t imaging living through those times without scars.

  45. On the thought of last reasonable war:

    My father’s tombstone in Arlington is enscribed with a simple

    WWII

    Those of the recent honored dead are enscribed with:

    Operation Iraqi Freedom

    Says a lot.

  46. Hi,

    As a Canadian army brat I grew up on bases. Over the years I realized my dad had landed on Normandy on D-Day and fought across Europe to end up just inside Germany on V-E day.

    I tried numerous times over the years to get him to talk about it, he still generally refuses, deflecting the questions in expert fashion to the more outrageous shenanigans that young soldiers will get up to. Over the years I think I got him to talk about it only 4-5 times. One of the earliest was how he had been wounded by shrapnel from hand grenades at least twice (can’t even get him to confirm how many times!).

    It should have seemed odd in retrospect for a tank driver to get such wounds. Then one day while watching a soldier on tv describe what it was like to be in a tank when it is knocked out, dad just suddenly said, “Yep, he’s right that’s what it is like”. Naturally I asked him for some details. He had had 7 tanks shot out while he was in them. On a few times, he was the only survivor of the crew. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. It also explained how hand grenade shrapnel could find a tank driver…

    I studied history at university, esp European in the 20th century. I am deeply grateful to the Russian, Canadian, British and US troops who took out the Nazis.

    My dad’s side were British and native Canadian. He came home to Canada, met my mother in 1946, and married her, she was of German descent, and her family fought for Canada in WWII. He later shared stories over beer with German veterans while posted to Germany in the 1950s.

    Let’s hope war will end. Yeah eternal optimist…

  47. It was tough here at ome too. My grandmother worked at a factory that recycled uniforms, removing name, unit patches, and repairing tears and holes. My mom was just a kid, but she remembers Granny coming home and quietly crying as she cooked supper. Mom and her friends collected those patches, oh, if she had only kept them!

  48. My father served as a doctor on an aircraft carrier in 1968-69. It took him years to talk about what happened on it, and it wasn’t until I was in college that he felt okay enough to walk onto a museum aircraft carrier.

    Some of the stories he *would* tell (of flight crew being sucked into jet engines) were bad enough that I still cry over the guys he tried to save but couldn’t. Like other vets, he prefers to tell stories about the quirky nature of the military, and the ways it affected him on ship.
    ***
    I have also visited the River Kwai in Thailand, stood in the cemetery, and went to Hellfire Pass where so many servicemen died; and yet was happy to find out about the clever, persistent doctor who tried to save as many of them as he could, with almost no medicines.

  49. World War II is America’s favorite war, the one in which we save the world by defeating those damn Nazis (and, no, we can’t hear the remnants of the Soviet Union clearing their throats indignantly in the background, why do you ask?) Not to mention the British and Canadians that landed at Gold, Juno and Sword beaches…

    D-Day is a convenient day of remembrance for the heroism of our ancestors in WW II but it often leads us to give short shrift to the other major offensive operations during that war that were equally hellish. These include the Guadalcanal campaign and Iwo Jima in the Pacific theater; In Europe the landings in Italy and yes, the Soviet counter-offensive to Operation Barbarossa stymied German and Italian ambitions. By the time D-Day actually rolled around the axis powers were already on the defensive in both the Pacific and European theaters of the war.

    But still, just because there were hundreds of thousands of other heroes in this war (see note), the men who fought through the landings at Normandy were the first to attack the core of the axis power in Europe. The conquest of France was one of the cornerstones of Hitler’s imperial ambitions, and the strategic and political significance of the liberation of France overshadows just about every other action except for the dropping of the A-Bombs in Japan.

    Note: The combined global military mobilization in WWII is estimated at 100 million military personnel according to Wikipedia, which would represent about 4% of the entire world’s population of roughly 2.5 billion at the time. So if there were some way to identify the the “top 1%” of military personnel as heroes in the war, you’d end up with 1 million soldiers, sailors and airmen.

  50. My father was aboard the USS Arkansas which supported the landing at Omaha Beach, one of the bloodiest of the American assigned beaches.

    Here is what I have managed to piece together of the “Arky’s” participation during the D-Day invasion.

    Afterwards, the Arkansas supported the Marines at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

    It is now a coral reef enjoyed by divers.

    So it goes.

  51. Rob @45: yes, let’s salute those canadians who fought (and especially those who died) for the freedom of others,

    Michael @51: it is basically impossible for those who didnlt go though it to understand the experience pf those who did.

  52. Canadian, American, British, Aussies, other Europeans that escaped, New Zealanders… any of them… almost all volunteers.. almost all young and near or actual TEENAGERS…. they all fought to free ALL of us.

    And now the country that most prided itself on emboding those values of freedom has slid into holding suspects without recourse or mercy, and officially embracing torture.

    I didn’t have any relatives in D-Day. My grandfather was a supply clerk for the 2nd NZEF, which meant staying at home at shipping stuff around the Pacific, and my granduncle was somewhere garrisoning a desert after helping to take it away from Rommel. They also serve who only etc etc.

  53. Look on the bright side, Phoenician – at least the US didn’t just elect two effing neo-nazis as MEPs in the european elections.

    I need a drink.

  54. “The Struggle for Europe”, one of the first books written about the landings (1947), opens with a quotation from Samson Agonistes:

    How comely it is, and how reviving
    To the spirits of just men long opprest,
    When God into the hands of their deliverers
    Puts invincible might.

  55. My dad was in the Pacific islands in the Australian Army as a supply Sergeant in WWII. I don’t think he actually fought, but he developed diabetes during his service (Mum said it was from bad diet – they were sending all the good food to the lads at the front). The diabetes eventually led to the kidney failure that killed him when I was 8.

    My Uncle Fred was on Ambon when it was overrun by the Japanese. Instead of surrendering and being taken prisoner, he and a couple of his mates stole a rowboat and a few supplies and headed out to sea. They were rescued by a passing merchant ship three weeks later, barely alive. My mother showed me a newspaper clipping about it when I was small and told me how for a couple of years after the war Fred had to sleep in a separate bedroom to his wife, because he had attacked her in his sleep thinking she was a Japanese soldier.

  56. I suppose I shouldn’t be boggled that there are people in the west who don’t immediately know what “Utah Omaha Gold Juno Sword” means, but it’s still hard to believe how freakin ignorant some people are. It means that they slept through high school history and never in their life turned on a television or cracked open a newspaper on the anniversary of D-day.

    re family: No one on the beaches at Normandy, but one great uncle fought at El Alamein and another was evacuated from Dunkirk. The latter had some interesting stories, and I have a slide-rule that he swiped off a desk before heading for the beach. One grandfather was a radio-operator in the RAF and the other built aircraft. IIRC, my grandparents hosted some children evacuated from London.

  57. Nick,

    Actually, I don’t remember High School History ever teaching a detailed account of D-Day. It was pretyy much covered genericly. However, when I was a teenager, I was an avid wargammer. I mean the kind you played on a board face to face with actual people. (Quaint, I know).

    It was with games like Squad Leader (and Advanced Squad Leader), Third Reich, Afrika Corps, D-Day, Panzer Leader, PanzerBlitz and the like where I learned a lot about WWII history.

    There was one game I remember called “Gold, Juno, Sword” made by (IIRC) Avalon Hill that specifically treated the three non-American beachheads.

    And you attempted to not repeat Montomgery’s mistakes (which actually wasn’t all that difficult).

    Anyway, it was through these strategic, operational, and tactical level war games that I learned quite a bit about WWII.

    And of course I read a bunch.

  58. Defeating the Nazis was capital-I Important.

    UK and USSR stubbornness, American wealth, and Nazi stupidity[1] had made that inevitable by the time of the Normandy landings.

    They were still vital however.
    I. They helped show democracies could fight tough fights.
    II. They fufilled diplomatic promises to the USSR that helped add a little trust to USSR-Western diplomacy. (It was not exactly trusting after the war, but before WWII worse.)
    III. It “saved” a lot of Western Europe from the USSR, which would have been a disaster for WE, The USSR (overstretch), and the remaining Western democracies (who would have felt a tad outnumbered at that point).

    [1] Just mentioning dominant stuff. All the involved nations had wealth, stubbornness and stupidity in great quantity.

  59. may i ask where the photo is from? Is it a Capa?

    my father manned the amphibians when they invaded iwo jima. i lived for his stories and his mind. he has passed he would have been 83 this year.

  60. I am Italo-Canadian, so all of my relatives were on the other side. None fought for the fascists and I have more than a few relatives that were anti-fascist partisans; this includes a family legend about one of dad’s relatives being part of partisan group that captured and executed Benito Mussolini.

    The one true story that makes me really proud is that of my mother. She was 16 by the time the war ended, and during the course of the war she lived in Nazi occupied Italy (in Friuli, where apparently the Nazi’s were particularly brutal.). During this time, my Mom found an escaped POW (an Australian) and instead of turning him over to the Nazi’s she sent him to the local parish priest who arranged to hide the POW at a local farm as a farm labourer. Took guts on the part of my mom; had she been found out, I would not be here to tell the story.

    The story has a cute ending. Turns out the farmer had a daughter and she and the escaped Aussie POW fell in love and Married. My Mom was Maid of Honour at her Wedding. I remember meeting this woman when I was a teenager.

    My dad must have had some horrible stories during the war; he too lived in Nazi occupied Northern but was urban working class. When he said he starved, he literally meant it. He never told the horrible stories, but told some funny ones.

    Cheers
    Andrew

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