Monday, June 7, 2010

6 June 1944: D-Day

One wonders what has become of the D-Day anniversary. Formerly marked by numerous events, it seems to be fading from consciousness as the date recedes and surviving veterans disappear.  (Not even many war movies or documentaries on tv here anymore.)

I doubt whether our students could even identify the date; I think many might know the date of Pearl Harbor, but not the year.  (NB: if they hadn't taken a class with me, of course.)  Here, for their benefit—or that of anyone else who wants to learn or needs a refresher course— is the overview for students from the National World War II Museum, which lists key players, goals, and scenes of combat, details the course of the fighting at key locations, and provides eyewitness testimony. And for everyone, a sample of the latter:
"... the craft gave a sudden lurch as it hit an obstacle and in an instant an explosion erupted.... Before I knew it I was in the water.... Only six out of 30 in my craft escaped unharmed. Looking around, all I could see was a scene of havoc and destruction. Abandoned vehicles and tanks, equipment strung all over the beach, medics attending the wounded, chaplains seeking the dead."
--Pvt. Albert Mominee, 16th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Division

"When you talk about combat leadership under fire on the beach at Normandy, I don't see how the credit can go to anyone other than the company-grade officers and senior NCOs who led the way. It is good to be reminded that there are such men, that there always have been, and always will be. We sometimes forget, I think, that you can manufacture weapons, and you can purchase ammunition, but you can't buy valor and you can't pull heroes off an assembly line."
--Sgt. John Ellery, 16th Infantry Regiment, U.S. 1st Division

"It looked like a Hollywood scene in a way, but it wasn't. People were being killed all around us."
--Pfc. Walter Rosenblum

"He suddenly raised his body and let out an awful yell. He had realized that his right leg was missing. I pushed him back down and I remember him saying, 'What am I gonna do? My leg, I'm a farmer.'"
--Pharmacist's Mate Frank Feduik, administering morphine to a GI on the deck of an LST

And finally, one view from the top and one from outside:
"This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that's the way it's going to be. We're going down there, and we're throwing everything we have into it, and we're going to make it a success."
--General Dwight D. Eisenhower

"'This is D-Day,' the BBC announced at 12 o'clock. 'This is the day.' The invasion has begun!... Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation? The liberation we've all talked so much about, which still seems too good, too much of a fairy tale ever to come true?... the best part of the invasion is that I have the feeling that friends are on the way. Those terrible Germans have oppressed and threatened us for so long that the thought of friends and salvation means everything to us!"
-- Anne Frank, diary entry, June 6, 1944

They don't talk like that anymore. (Of course, we don't have wars like that anymore, either.)

Here in the Northeast, the Boston Globe ran a nice editorial, along with dozens of historic photos. The New York Times apparently couldn't be bothered.  Meanwhile, many conservatives took up the charge that President Obama ignored the holiday by failing to post anything on the White House website and attending a gala at Ford's Theatre, where, conveniently for the editorialists ("And, he said this on the anniversary of D-Day?"), honoree Desmond Tutu turned a fabled communist saying on its head by declaring, "Security is not something that comes from the barrel of a gun." (Wait, does this mean that conservatives and Chairman Mao agree? Actually, that's not as strange as it sounds: only a peculiar breed of liberal or pseudo-leftist is unable to comprehend the realities of politics and force.) Whether presidents should mark the D-Day anniversary is an interesting question (I'd prefer they would). But to what extent they have done so and whether there are partisan patterns, I can't say (haven't had the time to check; perhaps someone else would undertake this task). What I can say is that the critics quickly forgot President Obama's participation in the 65th anniversary events—in France—last year. (On that occasion, the Times also ran a piece and photo essay on the 320th Antiaircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, "the only all-black unit in the D-Day landings on Omaha and Utah.")  On the left, a heartfelt post on the Daily Kos paid tribute to the event and the men, and generated appreciative comments. It would be nice to think that we could all at least come together in appreciating what General Eisenhower called the "Great Crusade" (unfortunate choice of words) to "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."

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