June 6 marks the anniversary of that Day of Days in 1944 when the Allies began the historic invasion of Nazi-occupied France. At great cost in blood and treasure, and with no certainty of victory, the armies, navies, and air forces of the free world concentrated their efforts in a heroic attempt to get a foothold in coastal France from which to repel the Nazi invaders.
We all know how that ended but on the eve of the invasion things looked grim enough that General Dwight D. Eisenhower prepared a statement for release in the event the invasion failed. Here is a roundup of some excellent links to remind us of the bravery, heroism, and sacrifice of those men — mostly very young men — who laid it all on the line on this day 72 years ago so that others might live free.
Order of the Day issued by Gen. Eisenhower on D-Day. It reads in part:
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 oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Eisenhower’s hand-written draft of a statement announcing, and taking personal responsibility for, the failure of the invasion. Thankfully, he never had to act on that contingency.
In 2004, Tom Selleck played Eisenhower in the A&E movie Ike: Countdown to D-Day. One of the most memorable scenes of the movie depicted the Supreme Commander visiting paratroopers on the eve of the invasion.
Unless you watched the movie The Longest Day, (one of the great WWII movies by the way) or are a history buff, you may not know that Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the iconic former president Teddy Roosevelt and relative of then-current president Franklin D. Roosevelt, fought in both WWI and WWII and led the D-Day landing at Utah Beach.
The American Battle Monuments Commission operates 25 American military cemeteries in 16 foreign nations. The Normandy American Cemetery is the final resting place of 9,387 American heroes, many of whom died on beaches not far from where they were laid to rest.
In case you are wondering, no, Google is not commemorating D-Day on their home page.
In fact, a search of the Google Doodle archive reveals that they have never done so. They did, however, commemorate on June 6, 2012 the 79th anniversary of the first drive-in movie so at least we have that.
But then who really needs a Google commemoration when we have a perfectly suitable one from President Reagan? In 1984 Reagan commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. To this day his remarks stand as one of the greatest tributes to that day and those men. A snippet below and a full transcript at the link.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.
There are a number of great WWII movies that do a fantastic job of depicting the Normandy invasion. Among my favorites is Band of Brothers. Yes, it’s a mini-series and not a movie but let’s not quibble about that. There aren’t many movies or TV series that I can watch multiple times. Band of Brothers is one of the few that I can watch often without tiring of it.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt took to the airwaves on the night of the invasion to speak to the nation and to offer up a prayer he wrote entitled Let Our Hearts Be Stout. You can read and listen to it in its entirety at the link, but here is a snippet to entice you over there.
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
The 2001 book, War Letters, by Andrew Carroll offers a collection of letters by soldiers from every major American conflict from the Civil War through Operation Desert Storm as well as a few from Somalia and Bosnia. It’s well worth picking up a copy.
There are many more articles, stories, speeches, and commemorations that could be linked here. I’ll leave you with just one more, a collection of letters written by men who participated in the D-Day invasion. Some of them did not make it home.
D-Day is not alone among the heroic battles which should be commemorated and memorialized, but it is one of the most iconic battles to turn the tide not only of a war but of world history. Many of you probably have your own favorite D-Day related links. Please share them in the comments!