If you didn’t catch the D Day commemorations this weekend you should go back on various network websites, pour a scotch or a glass of wine and just sit back. The memories were so clear, the emotions still so raw after 70 years that Kathy and I were rapt with interest and and an enormous sense of pride and humility. These guys were good.
Utah, Gold and Omaha beach were not sterile and abstract war games as the drones of today. There were no Stormin’ Normans displaying instant replays of bombs hitting their targets. No satellites to forecast the weather. Just blood and guts and a bunch of very courageous men.
We went to Normandy a few years ago and it is truly an experience you should not miss on so many different levels. The enormity defies description. There were over 11,000 planes and 700 ships that took part in the invasion. Rommel was convinced he had the fortresses that could not be scaled and you could see first hand what the phrase”war of attrition” meant.
Can you imagine being one of the 40 or so in each landing craft making its way towards shore. You took a long drag on your Camel or Lucky Strike and you looked around at your comrades in arms and wondered which one of you were at death’s door? Literally. The front bay door dropped and the incessant barrages of fire mowed and maimed one man in three in the first few seconds. . The waves and shoreline held schools of dead bodies from the first half hour of battle. The water was red with blood and those sons of bitches just kept on firing and picking off teenage soldiers like shooting galleries on a carnival midway.
The most striking thing to me was that this was a war of all the American people. Back home we were able to churn out ships and planes by the thousands in a frenzy of building. Rosey the Riveter had a lot of help. The country rationed gas, sugar and metal to aid the effort. People grew Victory Gardens not as a cute way to be patriotic but because that was the only way they were going to get fresh produce. Sure there was complaining but it was muted. This was not a vague far off concept but reality.
Almost coincidentally they opened the 9/11 museum at the former WTC a few weeks ago. After viewing the ceremony on TV I likened the surroundings to the visitor center at Omaha Beach. We didn’t breeze through on a schedule but spent hours watching and reading vignettes in little alcoves. All the while you saw the GI’s packs and supplies on display that almost seemed primitive. There was no Kevlar in the helmets. Just metal brain buckets. There were no medivac choppers just litters being passed by those who still had limbs that worked. Oh, we have become a lot better at war now. In Viet Nam we only lost 55,000. In Iraq and Afghanistan just a few thousand. Tell that to a wife or mom or dad.
After a long time in the center you take a purposeful walk to the cemetery. You have seen pictures before but you just don’t know how poignant the first few rows are. As you start to scan the manicured gravesites lined up in perfect symmetry you realize just how many men were gunned down in just one place. They have found their rest for these last 70 years overlooking a strikingly serene stretch of the French coast.
The PBS special was particular. There were four fellows from different branches in the service. There were coxswains and paratroopers. Grunts and airmen. They each told there story as if it were yesterday not 70 years prior. They laughed off the danger. They wept when they told of a buddy that was no longer. All this seared into their arthritic bones and wounded psyches. War is a horrible but somehow necessary part of life. We can’t resolve issues or tyrannies with words. Might is sadly right. And some can never forget it.
The French at least on the coast have been forever grateful. You can feel it as you see the Stars and Stripes right next to the Tricolor on towering flagpoles. I take President Hollande at his word when he conveys the thanks of a liberated nation. But I do question his resolve when he sells warships to boost his drooping economy to a Russia we are trying to coerce with sanctions. But I forgot. It’s just business. Frau Merkel wants everybody to play nice and not upset her economic juggernaut. And Obama and Putin pout like teenagers who have had an ugly breakup to a bumpy romance. Oi vey.
Therein lies my one big problem. I wish one of those old guys with the VFW piss cutters or the commemorative ball caps would just ask the suits to sit down and shut up. They could address the crowds in plain and simple talk that would be more than elegant and statesmanlike. I can always dream.
As I write this piece I can’t help but feel not only for the D Day guys but for all those who have fought forgotten wars. Korea and Viet Nam in particular. The Greatest Generation is more than an appropriate moniker for these bands of brothers. But there is a lot of other men and women who have given more than their fair share in the years since. Each and every one has played a part. They should have their day in the sun but unfortunately that ain’t going to happen. C’est la vie. C’est la guerre.
Someone said there will never be another assault like D Day in the history of the world. Given the state of warfare that is true. But then I wonder if we need a good kick in the pants every now and then. Not to beef up our fire power but to realize just how precious this thing is that we call our freedom. It’s so much more than a business. It is our life…and our future. Young and old should feel that deep down.
Ted The Great.
U.S. casualties on D-Day: 2,499 dead, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing, 26 captured.
• Other Allied casualties on D-Day: approximately 2,700 British, 946 Canadians.
• German casualties: 4,000-9,000.
• Total killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of Normandy (June 6-25) for both sides: 425,000.
• French civilians killed in Normandy: 15,000-20,000, mainly from Allied bombing.
There were 156,000 troops that came ashore on D Day 73,000 Americans and 83,000 British and Canadian.
General Eisenhower had a letter of apology drawn up taking full blame for the failure of D Day if things did not go well.
The Germans flooded the fields where our paratroopers landed and many drowned to death.
OVER EIGHTY MILLION PEOPLE WERE KILLED IN WWII 2/1/2% of the world’s population.