Thursday, June 06, 2013

'The Free Men Of the World Are Marching To Victory' - D-Day

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a 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, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

~ Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

The above is the statement General Eisenhower released to the allied forces under his command just before the Normandy Invasion that started the liberation of Europe from the Nazis.

Not so well known is that General Eisenhower also had another statement in readiness announcing the failure of the invasion and accepting full responsibility for what would have been a debacle.

When you read about Operation Overlord in Cornelius Ryan's "The Longest Day" or in Eisenhower's own remarkable book Crusade In Europe, it's easy to see why General Eisenhower was not unprepared for its possible failure. The weather was uncertain, there were indications that the enemy had found out the details of the plans for the invasion, and the sheer logistics of getting that many men and the supplies they would need landed on those hostile shores is amazing to read about even today. There were plenty of General Eisenhower's advisers who advised him not to attempt it, and it took considerable courage to go ahead anyway.

My uncle was one of the men who landed on Omaha beach that day. He never spoke about it much, except, in characteristic fashion, to make a joke about all the 'merchandise he was supposedly carrying to sell off....

I can only imagine what it was like to see the gates on that LST drop and have to run through the choppy waves to the beach, straight into the face of enemy fire every inch of the way.

The invasion might well have failed if not for a superb bit of disinformation. General George Patton was America's best combat commander, fresh from a superb record of victories in North Africa and Sicily. However, Patton was also in the political doghouse over an incident involving the slapping of a soldier he felt was malingering.

General Patton was removed from command of the Seventh Army in Italy and ordered to London, partly to get him out of the spotlight and let the furor die down and partly because allied intelligence had confirmed that the Germans were convinced that Patton was going to be the commander of the allied attempt to invade France, which they also thought was certain to be directed at Calais, the closest point between England and France.

Instead, Eisenhower put General Omar Bradley in command and used Patton as a decoy, creating message traffic back and forth to an entire fictitious army group and feeding the Germans fake intel on a supposed landing straight across the Strait of Dover to Calais. Because of that, German General Erwin Rommel was given only three Panzer units for the Normandy area while the rest were designated as being "in reserve" and held back in locations inland where they could be shunted over to Calais and deployed on Hitler's direct orders. In fact, most of them ended up staying right where they were as Hitler declined to give the orders to move them.

Out of the three Panzer groups Rommel had, only one was placed near the actual site of the Normandy landing. The other two were deployed near Calais and stayed right where they were for two weeks after the invasion, because the Nazis were still convinced that Patton was going to lead the main invasion force in an assault on Calais. By the time the Germans realized they'd been had, it was too late and the Allies had a firm beachhead.

One of the most amazing exploits in a day of amazing exploits has to be the scaling of the cliffs at the Pointe Du Hoc by Army Rangers, and I have a little story to tell about apologies to those of you whom are regular members of Joshua's Army whom have heard it before.

About fifteen or so years ago, a few days after another June 6th, I ran into a grizzled old man and his friend at the bar of a local country club, where I was waiting for a lunch companion to show up. We got to chatting, the way people do in bars, and when a brief item flashed across the screen on the bar TV about D-Day, the man mentioned that his friend had been one of the Army Rangers who scaled the sheer cliffs of the Pointe Du Hoc under withering enemy fire, taking out the artillery, machine guns and pill boxes at the top of the cliffs. It cost these incredibly brave men a casualty rate of about 60%, and I'm still amazed it was even done at all.

Fortunately, my lunch date was late and the elderly warrior felt like talking, so I got to hear a first hand account from him what that had been like, using rope ladders and daggers and pulling themselves upwards while the Germans fired down at them.

As he spoke, an amazing thing occurred. The years seemed to drop away from him somehow and I could almost see the young soldier who pulled himself up the cliffs of the Pointe Du Hoc and kept going until he reached the top.No histrionics, no hyperbole, just a matter of fact account of a tough day's work.

Today, the chances are the man I spoke to that day isn't among us anymore. But I feel privileged that I got a chance to spend a few minutes with him, hear what he had to say and buy him a drink or two. It was living history at its best, and I've never forgotten it.

The men who invaded Normandy and defeated the scourge of fascism gave us the gift of freedom. Recent events would seem to suggest that we've taken that far too much for granted, the surest way to lose that freedom.

The warriors who beat back the dark night of tyranny almost 70 years ago did it so their posterity could live in a free nation. Now it is our turn to honor them by continuing that fight and preserving that freedom for our own posterity.


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