Captain Dye's Blog
These are all the Blogs posted in June, 2009.
Saturday, 6
D-Day: Some thoughts on the 65th Anniversary
Coming as it appropriately does so soon after Memorial Day, the anniversary of D-Day gets short shrift on the American emotional scale. Most who bothered to pause at all in holiday pursuits to remember the service and sacrifice of our war dead figure they've done what's expected of decent folks on the last Monday in May and 6 June passes virtually unnoticed. Add to that a generation of young Americans who can barely find France on a map or even identify the Allied and Axis powers in World War II and you get an idea of why one of the seminal events of the 20th Century passes with barely a blip on our national radar.
Granted most Americans alive today were decades away from being born when American, British and Canadian troops stormed ashore on the beaches of Normandy, but that's no excuse in my book for ignorance of the extraordinary achievement that made D-Day successful and turned a very sharp corner toward bringing the agony of world war to an end. It seems to me that in these dark days of economic woes, political uncertainty, declining national influence, terrorist threats and ideological struggles, we need to wring out the crying towel, stiffen the national backbone, stop whining and take arms against our sea of troubles and by opposing end them. Apologies to William Shakespeare for the rip-off, but that's precisely what our soldiers and sailors did on that stormy day in June 1944 when the order came down to land the landing force on the beaches of Normandy. A few moments of reflection on what they pulled off in the face of fatal odds, might just help us find some badly-needed guts.
For a lot of reasons related to my military background and some of the movies I've worked on - especially Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers - D-Day in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) has held a special interest for me. Over the years I've spent a lot of very rewarding time talking to aging survivors of both the surface landings across Omaha and Utah Beaches as well as the airborne assaults further inland and these gents are truly inspirational.
To a man they tell the kind of stories we need to hear these days about taking action rather than the counsel of our fears; about finding ways to get seemingly impossible things done, and about understanding that there are some things more important - and more worthy - than our own self-interest. Standing on Omaha Beach one day with a group of veterans from the 1st Infantry Division who landed on those bloody sands sixty years earlier, I was staggered by the obvious odds they faced on D-Day. Looking in one direction at the German positions from which plunging and enfilading fire tore into the landing force and then in the other direction where a flat, wide-open expanse of sand and shale provided no cover for them as they came ashore from open landing craft, I wondered how in the hell anyone survived.
"Luck of the draw," said one of the guys from the 16th Infantry who advanced inland despite a bullet in his left thigh. "It all went to hell in a hand-basket right quick but you just had to keep going, keep pushing and find a way to get it done. There was no other option that day on the beaches." Based on my own combat experiences, I got the picture he was painting but I'm afraid too many Americans just can't see the important lessons about courage, fortitude, initiative and common purpose that the D-Day holds for all of us.
Focusing here on just the American effort on 6 June, we landed 73,000 troops across two beaches on D-Day 1944: 23,250 on Utah and 34,250 on Omaha. Parachute infantry and glider assault prior to the surface landings involved 15,500 more troops. Of those 2,499 were killed in action. No precise figures exist for the number of wounded but a military rule of thumb in this kind of operation says you can count on at least three soldiers seriously wounded for every one killed which would mean that some fourteen percent of all Americans involved in the assault stages of Operation Overlord was either killed or wounded. It was chaos on the beaches and in the hedgerows inland, but they managed to cobble themselves into fighting units - often led by lowly privates and PFCs - and lodged an Allied foothold on Nazi-occupied Europe that led inevitably to an Axis defeat.
There were a lot of practical factors involved in their success against such formidable opposition. The Germans were convinced that no sane commander would attempt an amphibious operation against fortified beaches in the blustery, rainy and windy conditions that turned the Atlantic into a heaving cauldron in the first week of June 1944. And senior German commanders including Adolf Hitler were positive the Allies would go the easy route and cross the channel at the narrowest point, landing between Calais and Dieppe, so an element of surprise worked in favor of the landing forces but that's about all they had going for them on D-Day.
Early preparation of the landing area by Allied air forces was off the mark and ineffective. Naval gunfire support started smoky fires that obscured the beaches. Landing craft drifted off course in the strong currents and put many elements ashore in the wrong places. Too many soldiers struggling in deep water and weighted down by heavy equipment drowned before they could get into the fight. Troops ran into unmarked and unexpected minefields. Paratroopers and glider infantrymen were scattered all over the countryside and well away from their planned drop zones. One veteran who was the assistant S-3 of his battalion in the 29 Infantry Division told me he might as well have used his detailed operation plan as toilet paper. "Once the first wave started coming ashore on Omaha we knew there was only one thing sure about this deal. If anything could go wrong, it was damn sure going to do so."
Yet they sucked it up, shrugged it off and kept moving...all the way to Berlin. No problem, no obstacle, no foul up in planning or execution, no amount of fear or trepidation stopped those men on D-Day. Their spirit, grit and guts are remarkable, admirable and full of life lessons for all Americans if only we'd learn. These guys knew about hard times and they understood you don't get past them by whining, bitching and walking around waiting for a hand-out or a hand up. If that's not an applicable and timely example for all of us these days, I don't know what might be.
We're losing our World War II vets at the rate of about a thousand a day right now. If you're feeling sorry for yourself or crying the poor-ass about your personal plight, find one of the surviving veterans and talk to him. He'll tell you to get over it and press on with spirit and vigor just like he and his buddies did on D-Day in Normandy. To do anything less is to lose the American spirit, initiative and courage that makes our country worth fighting for in war or in peace.
Posted By Captain Dale A. Dye at 2:04 PM / Category:General News
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