At the outset of these three days in history, America was in a bit of a pickle. We had declared war on Germany following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, Axis allies with Hitler, but we were not ready immediately to tackle the German menace due to the need to respond to Japan first. June 4, 1942, the date of the opening of the Battle of Midway which we decisively won on June 7th, began the slow trek back for America’s military resurgence as we finally gained a defeat over the same fleet that had played havoc on Pearl Harbor. America needed a victory badly for morale, for the mighty industrial machinery was just churning in full gear to provide the muscle that our fighting men needed in the Pacific. Midway gave us the opportunity to begin going on the offensive and with it a future capability to focus on Germany as well. And we knew that Germany had to be taken on with force as well.
Following the victory at Midway, American forces began the push toward the mainland of Japan. It was bloody and brutal with names of places no one had ever heard of making headlines back home. Guadalcanal, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa were just a few of the places which became topics of household discussion in those days.
In Europe, we faced a different problem which required a very patient strategy. The early days of American combat were in North Africa and Italy. It was decided to strike at the major source of oil which the German war machine desperately needed and then begin a push north on the other side of the Mediterranean to neutralize and destroy Mussolini, Hitler’s Italian puppet. But once this was accomplished, the major issue of finding a way to successfully assault the German homeland became paramount. Moving huge numbers of men and heavy equipment over the Alps from Italy into Germany would be suicide, yet the choice that was decided on was nearly as unrealistic. And this brings us to late May 1944.
The Allied forces had been planning a major invasion of Europe from Britain for several years. Under the leadership of General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of these forces, a huge contingent of American soldiers and British and Canadian allies would invade via an undisclosed location at an unknown date and time. But the Germans knew it was coming; they just didn’t know when or exactly where.
A major concealment effort was the creation of a dummy Army, complete with what looked like all kinds of equipment from the air, under the command of General George Patton. The Germans began to believe this was the “real deal” and assumed that a major thrust would be toward Calais. This stroke of genius played a major role in forcing the Germans to look away from Normandy, although the barriers, cliffs and many troop units remained nearby but placed on lower alert.
As the final days preparatory to the invasion began, American and British forces were maintained on alert, ready to go on short notice. Weather was an issue which caused delay and consternation for the troops, ready to go, but still not knowing when. When the order finally came, Airborne soldiers of the 101st Airborne, were first out on June 5th, tasked with jumping into Normandy inland of the coast and finding and destroying the “big guns” which Germany had trained on the coastline. They lost many before they even reached the ground, but those who made it safely into France did significant damage to the huge German howitzers. Had these guns remained operational the next day, many more casualties would have been inflicted on our troops and the ships carrying them across the English Channel. And luckily, the Germans weren't convinced that this was the main force; they thought it was a ruse. They still expected the main thrust to be farther east.
The weather was still pretty iffy at this point, perhaps marginal at best, but General Eisenhower, known by all as "Ike", knew he couldn’t keep his troops cramped up and itching to go any longer without it impacting morale in a bad way. He gave the go ahead and every ship available was put into service to ferry the soldiers to Normandy, the actual target, while the German commander, Erwin Rommel, was on leave in Berlin.
German sentries on duty and in the concrete pillboxes built above the cliffs looked out into the misty coastal morning on June 6th and couldn’t believe what they saw. Out of the fog came hundreds of watercraft of every conceivable kind while the off shore ship batteries opened fire with a vengeance. And we all know the rest of the story.
It was tough getting through the surf, the barriers and then to the base of the cliffs. Many died exiting the landing craft, others on the beach, but the grit and determination of American, British and Canadian fighters was ultimately successful on what has been called “The Longest Day”, June 6, 1944. Once over the top, the Germans quickly withdrew to the rear to reorganize and reorganize they did. But the push into Normandy was the beginning of the end although a long and bloody eleven months of battle ensued until the Reich was destroyed and surrendered in May 1945. And the Pacific war continued until August, ultimately requiring the unleashed power of two atomic bombs to finally convince Japan to unconditionally surrender.
Three days in history, three days which ultimately led to freedom for many who had been under the yoke of tyranny at the cost of many lives. And all Americans should remember what they did. It’s just a shame that we no longer teach about it. It was almost impossible to find any mention of it this week in either print or television news. How sad. This should be a time we never forget, vowing to remain strong and ready to fight when we must, but always seeking every other alternative to war where possible.
God bless America and may she ever stay free.
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