Saturday, June 06, 2009

D-Day Plus 23,741

Today is the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

On June 6, 1944, the combined forces of the United Nations -- mostly American, British, and Canadian units -- stormed the beaches of Normandy in an operation widely seen as the beginning of the end of World War II. Less than a year later, Nazi Germany had surrendered and Western Europe had been entirely liberated. (Eastern Europe, sadly, remained chained and oppressed for another 45 years.)

If you do the math, you'll realize that the youngest survivors of the D-Day invasion are today 83 years old -- perhaps 82, if they lied about their ages when they enlisted. Most are in their late 80s or early 90s. They have seen much history between then and now, but the history they made that day and the weeks that followed had a greater effect on the course of the 20th century than anything else they might have done.

Several of my blog-brothers and -sisters have posted tributes to the men of Operation Overlord. They deserve visits:

The Write Side of My Brain begins with a quotation from General Eisenhower's message to the troops.

The Movie-Watchers Guide to the Galaxy posts newsreel footage of the preparation for and execution of the invasion, with voiceover remembrances from D-Day veterans.

Blue Virginia has President Obama's remarks from earlier today.

A Blog for All
has a lengthy post (including video) that references the two versions of General Eisenhower's address for after the invasion: one planned for a successful operation, the other planned for a disaster. Needless to say, the "disaster" script was never delivered.

SWAC Girl references a Washington Times editorial on the sacrifice of D-Day.

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub asks whether it is appropriate to fly a U.S. flag today.

Leslie Carbone posts the video of Ronald Reagan's speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. (Part II is here.)

The transcript of that moving speech by President Reagan can be found in the Great Speeches Collection at The History Place. An excerpt gives the flavor of his remarks:

We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For 4 long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

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 machineguns 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.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
Twenty years later, minus one day, President Reagan died. Leslie Carbone remembers.

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