Greetings, Dear Reader! It’s late morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Friday, June 4, 2021. It’s a sultry and somewhat gloomy-looking morning; the current temperature is 80˚F (27˚C) under cloudy skies. With humidity at 57% and the wind blowing from the southeast at 6 MPH (10 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 79˚F (26˚C). Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms to move through our area, and the high will be 86˚F (30˚C). Scattered rain showers can be expected tonight, and the low will be 71˚F (22˚C).
In two days it will be the 77th Anniversary of the D-Day landings on the Normandy coast of France which marked the start of Operation OVERLORD – the Allied invasion to liberate France from German occupation – and the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler and his tyrannical Third Reich. During the first 24 hours of Overlord – itself a collection of coordinated operations with individual code names – three airborne and six infantry divisions, supported by a large armada of warships and supply ships, broke through the German defenses along a fifty mile front and established a series of beachheads that became the first “cracks” in Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.
Ever since I first learned about D-Day as a precocious child back in 1969, I have been fascinated – some people might even say “obsessed” – with World War II in general and the Battle of Normandy in particular. At first, my interest was that of a kid who just thought tanks, guns, and planes were “cool.” Later on, though. I watched serious documentaries and read every book I could get my hands on about what is famously referred to as “the longest day” – June 6, 1944 – and the campaigns that followed.
And each year around this time, I try to mentally journey back to late spring of 1944 and put myself in the hearts and minds of those American, British, Canadian, and Free French soldiers, airmen, sailors, and coastguardsmen who participated in the D-Day landing. Intellectually, I know that the veterans of previous campaigns just wanted to get it over with so that the war would end, and they could get home.
I also know that the green troops fresh out of training – some of whom had been through an accelerated training program and had never heard a shot fired in anger – were confident that the Germans were on their last legs and that the combination of aerial bombardment and naval shellfire targeted at the beach defenses would make the actual landings a “walkover.” Sure, many of them were scared but acted as though they weren’t. But I’ve read enough of the D-Day literature to convince me that the prevailing attitude among the invasion planners was that the veterans – who had been through battle before – were more likely to be less cocky about the Overlord invasion than kids – some just recently graduated from high school – who had never seen a battlefield or seen their buddies get wounded or killed in action.
I also remember that on June 4, 1944, the weather over Southern England and the invasion area in France took a turn for the worse – a low pressure system came in from the Atlantic and brought along rain, fog, and heavy seas. This forced Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, to postpone D-Day, which was set for Monday, June 5, for 24 hours.
I can only imagine how tense everyone involved in the planning and execution of D-Day must have felt 77 years ago. Especially those guys at the tip of the spear who were due to land on Utah, Omaha, Sword, Gold, and Juno Beaches in the first wave of the invasion.
And each year around this time, I always take a moment to remember those men and women who worked so hard to make the D-Day invasion happen. From the combat infantrymen who had to get on those Higgins boats and other landing craft and struggle to get on the beaches to the nurses, drivers, spies, French Resistance fighters and Red Cross volunteers whose services often get overshadowed by the stories of the “fighting men” of D-Day, I silently thank them all for their service. They were ordinary folks who lived in extraordinary times, and although not all of them saw action on the front lines or earned medals for valor, all of them, in the lingo of the time, “did their bit.”
They deserve to be remembered.