An invading army had not crossed the unpredictable, dangerous English Channel since 1688 – BUT – on June 6, 1944, 256 years later, a man from Kansas spoke the following words that half the world had prayed to hear – “People of Western Europe, a landing was made this morning on the coast of France.” – the hour of invasion had arrived.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme allied commander, continued by telling the troops, “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of all liberty loving people go with you.”
Those who were there at that moment in history said that as leaders of Free France, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Luxembourg and Belgium sent special coded messages to their respective resistance troops – there wasn’t a dry eye present.
None of us stationed at that time in England, waiting for our orders to move, will ever forget the reports that we had landed 150,000 men on the Normandy Coast of France and that Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” had been breached.
Let no one today think that D-DAY, 68 years ago, just happened. Actually, preparations for that momentous day had begun in July, a year earlier.
Approximately 753,000 tons of supplies first started to pour through British Ports in the summer of 1943, and by May 1944, had climbed to nearly 2 million tons. For the air attacks, 163 air drones were built in England, 50,000 military vehicles were assembled there, 170 miles of new railroad lines were laid down to shift the supplies, and 1,000 locomotives and 20,000 railroad cars were sent to England for eventual transfer to the continent. Also jammed on the British Island were 39 Combat Divisions amounting to 2,876,000 troops.
I remember hearing Bob Hope joking at a USO event, “That there were so many men and so much material on the Island, that it would sink except for the barrage balloons flying overhead.” (They were there to protect us from low flying German planes)
At 6:30 a.m. on June 6, all “hell” broke loose when battleships, cruisers and bombers started the attack against the German defense, which kept up until H-Hour minus five minutes, when 11,000 vessels put thousands of our men and tons of equipment ashore on five designated beaches between Cherbourg and the Seine.
The landings were far from easy. At Omaha Beach everything went wrong for our assault troops of the First Division, veterans of North Africa and Sicily, and the 29th National Guard who were experiencing combat for their first time.
Rommel’s 12 strong points on the bluffs overlooking that beach contained 35 strategically located German pillboxes, which were not destroyed by our B-24 because bad weather had forced them to drop their bombs three miles away and thus missed their targets.
Only 43 of 96 tanks, six of 16 bulldozers, ever reached shore. In addition, we lost 26 heavy artillery pieces, 50 landing craft and 2,300 of the 2,400 tons of supplies sent ashore.
American infantrymen were originally pinned down, but in the words of Ernest Hemingway, who worked “Omaha” that day as a war correspondent, “Our men proudly hung on by their eyelashes.”
By the end of D-Day, even though the First and 29th had suffered 3,000 casualties, they still managed to clear, secure and hold on to their “Omaha Beach” positions.
That unforgettable June 6, 1944, was the day that American infantry soldiers, the shock troops of the war, proved President Franklin D. Roosevelt correct when he said, “Americans born to freedom and believing in freedom would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.”
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