D-Day and World War II- Blood, Sweat and Bravery

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

– General Dwight D. Eisenhower letter to the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force

Beyond Band of Brothers Tour

The first place Ron I went to was Normandy. We retraced the landings of D-Day. We followed the path of the Allied forces as they landed on the shores of Normandy, France. The tour allowed us to step back in time to this important World War II battle. Brave men crossed the English Channel, delving into history in June 1944. We toured the important sites with noted military historian Rudy. We strolled the legendary beaches. We stood on the cratered cliff top at Pointe du Hoc, and visited local villages that still bear the vestiges of war.

History

The endless flow of history touches us all. History defines the past and shows the way to the future. With this trip we journeyed through time and across continents to see World War II as it really happened in the places the war happened.  We relived the events shaped World War II.

Normandy, France

Normandy is a beautiful landscape of northern France. With its miles of beach and a countryside full of charming chateaus. Today, people came here to relax, to unwind, and to remember. To remember a day when this beautiful countryside was a killing ground.

On June 6, 1944- D-Day- the day of the greatest invasion the world has ever seen.

By 1944, World War II is in its fifth year. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi War Machine seem unstoppable. Hitler holds the European continent in an iron grip. Seasoned Nazi troops occupy the entire coastline all the way through France to the border of Spain. Hitler calls it his Atlantic Wall.

Just 30 miles across the English Channel, the British Isles are being transformed into a huge arsenal. Allied forces pour into the island nation in preparation for Hitler’s day of reckoning.

The D-Day operation is a risky proposition- a surprise attack on France. The massive invasion is planned for the late spring of 1944. It is called “Operation Overlord.” The commander is United States General Dwight D. Eisenhower. To get the job done, he’s building a force of 170,000 soldiers, sailors and airman from Britain, the United States and Canada. Where the Allies will strike and when must at all cost be kept top secret.

The Allies dot the countryside with mock-ups of tanks and trucks. They even build false harbors and air fields- all of it decoys to fool German spies. They lay a trail of false information. Hitler is kept guessing.

Some of the Nazi generals can’t believe the Allies would risk sending an army across the unpredictable English Channel. Nature and experience backs them up. June 5, 1944. The worst storm in 25 years whips the English Channel into a fury. Eisenhower waits a day than faces a crucial decision- attack now across menacing seas or wait for two more weeks for favorable tides.

Early on the morning of June 6, 1944 Eisenhower makes the toughest decision of his life. Eisenhower sends his soldiers to war with a stirring message, “This landing is but the opening phase of the campaign in Western Europe. I call upon all who love freedom to stand with us now. Keep your faith staunch. Our arms are resolute. Together, we shall achieve victory.”

Eisenhower knows many of these brave men will not return. 130,000 men in 5,000 ships- the largest armada ever assembled- crosses the stormy English Channel to begin the liberation of Europe.

The invasion fleet avoids the narrowest point of the channel where the coast is most heavily defended. The invasion force heads towards the beaches of Normandy. The line of attack stretches 70 miles along the coast.

British and Canadian troops will land at beaches code named Gold, Juno and Sword. The Americans will land at Utah and Omaha. The most daunting is the six miles of Omaha Beach.

The Germans have dug in on bluffs, some rising 200 feet. From their concrete bunkers, they command the beach. Along the shore are mines, steel spikes, and coils of barbed wire. A direct hit from their big guns can turn an allied landing craft into an inferno.

Landing craft now hit sandbars on their way to the beach. The Americans wade into a hail of machine gun and cannon fire. Casualties in the first wave are 50%. Their first instinct is to hit the dirt. But they must not.

A colonel shouts at his men that there are two kinds of people staying on the beach- the dead and those who are going to die. He adds now let’s get the hell out of here. The invasion is an incredible display of valor and determination. By the end of the day, 130,000 men and their equipment are ashore all along the coast of Normandy. D-Day is a magnificent success and the turning point in the war.

Within a year, Germany surrenders. But the Allies pay a terrible price. More than 10,000 killed, wounded, or missing. The casualties are highest on Omaha Beach where more than 2,000 Americans die. The stretch of sand becomes known as bloody Omaha.

Many of the dead from that day lie in consecrated ground overlooking Omaha Beach and other military cemeteries along the coast of Normandy. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.