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.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well
equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in
battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great
and noble undertaking. - Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 5, 1944 Courtesy: Kansas Historical Society, Abilene
The men General Eisenhower was addressing included huge numbers of young men from many differing places, a majority really just boys. They came from farms, small towns, fishing villages and big cities. They had been training for this day for many months, running through maneuvers, learning defensive and offensive hand-to-hand combat actions and practicing stressful teamwork drills and they didn't know when the signal to go would come but they knew it would be soon. In late May they were marshaled into camps adjacent to the airfields and the ports from which they would depart and then they waited......waited for a break in the weather and the moment when Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower would send the message to go. There was boredom tinged with worry and fear, but they kept the mission focus on until they finally got the word on June 5th that tomorrow was the big day. It came after many postponements so right up until they boarded the ships and boats and the planes they did not know with certainty that this was it.
General Eisenhower and his staff originally wanted to start the invasion in May, but the weather in the Channel was atrocious. And by June 5th, he knew if he didn't get them underway soon their extended days of cramped quarters and boredom coupled with the stress of expectation would adversely impact their readiness when needed. He also knew that worse weather was likely on the way so late in the day of June 4th he made his decision: June 6th would be D-Day. Picture yourself in his shoes. If he made the right call his name would be remembered with honor. If he was wrong and the mission failed, he'd go down in history as a shamed leader of very brave men. That he was proven right ultimately led to his becoming President of the United States in the election of 1952.
The airborne forces and the advance Rangers and commandos began their journey shortly after nightfall with plans to drop behind the Normandy beachhead lines sometime after one in the morning. Many of them were lost along the way, including large contingents of airborne troops either due to plane crash or being shot out of the sky. But many more made it and heroically took out rear German "big guns" which would be deadly to ships and troops coming ashore as well as providing forward observer function on what and where the major German defense was vulnerable.
In the mist of the morning of June 6th, German soldiers in the pillboxes above the cliffs of Normandy couldn't believe their eyes. Hundreds and hundreds of ships and troop carriers began to appear out of the mist. With their principal leader, General Erwin Rommel, back in Berlin for a celebration of his wife's birthday, command and control was confused and the response to the incoming assault, while deadly, lacked the command direction on site that he needed. But all day long the battle waged as the American and Allied forces had trouble traversing the beach and then, particularly difficult due to the terrain, it took wave after wave until engineers using bangalore torpedoes could open an assault avenue to reach a point from which to climb the cliffs below the shore defense line.
Reports were slow in coming from the front regarding success, but finally about twenty four hours after it began the word was out that large combat numbers had scaled the cliffs and had pushed the front line Germans back. And as the "Longest Day" drew to an end, there was no time to stop and rest because they had to defend against a regrouped German counter-assault and continue the push inward allowing the security necessary for the supply lines to come ashore and get established.
On this day in 2017 when we are all comfortable in dry clothes and with lighting and air conditioning and as we go about our daily routine, remember these brave warriors, many of whom went from being mere boys to combat experienced warriors in just over one day. They were brave and they were true and had they failed, who knows, we might be speaking German these days. God bless them and God bless America.