Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day + 70

Virgin Mary + US Paratroopers
St. Mère Eglise, France

Seventy years ago the Allied armies waded ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe.  The night before on June 5th American airborne forces (82nd and 101st) landed on the Western flank of the invasion area near St. Mere Eglise while British airborne (6th para) forces secured the Eastern flank and Pegasus bridge.  They jumped out of C-47 Dakota Skytrain transport planes through darkness and into glory.  Some arrived by glider.  Private John Steele of the 82nd airborne landed on the steeple of the church at St. mere Eglise (see photo below).
C-47 Dakota Skytrain, Musee Airborne, St. Mere Eglise
They came ashore the next morning on five different beaches.  Brigadier General Ted Roosevelt jr. (the sone of President Teddy Roosevelt) landed with his men on Utah facing relatively little German opposition.  The Canadians stormed ashore on Juno (  Sword and Gold were reserved for the British forces.  A small contingent of French commandos joined the British on Sword and helped capture Ouistreham destroying the Casino.  The worst Allied casualties took place on bloody Omaha partly due to an abbreviated naval bombardment of the German positions.

Private John Steele, St. Mere Eglise
The Allies, in spite of the vast size of their armada and the relative openness of their societies, had, remarkably, managed to achieve strategic surprise over the Germans.  Rommel was in Germany celebrating his wife's 50th birthday.  Hitler persisted in the mistaken belief that the Normandy invasion was a feint and that the "real" blow would be struck at the Pas de Calais.  For more on how the Allies pulled off this amazing sleight of hand see...

Eisenhower, Normandy, FR

Eisenhower had planned the invasion form his offices at 20 Grosvenor square in London (a construction site today).  Number One Grosvenor square (now the Canadian High Commissioners Office) was the wartime location of the American embassy.  Averell Harriman presided over Lend Lease from 3 Grosvenor square helping to fund our wartime Allies.  The OSS (Office of Strategic Services), forerunner of the CIA, had its offices at 70 Grosvenor square (now an office building).  Little wonder that this neighbourhood was know as "Little America" at the time.  Some wags even referred to Grosvenor square as "Eisenhowerplatz".  The American embassy at Grosvenor square was recently featured in the TV series "24: Live Another Day".

US Sherman tank
Musee Airborne, St. Mere Eglise, FR
Imagine if the Normandy invasion had to occur today in 2014 in the age of social media!  There would be an interactive poll taken on Allied strategy: "Which beach do you like more, Normandy or Pas de Calais?"  Could all the members of the 101st Screaming Eagles painted in Indian warpaint with their Mohawk haircuts be counted upon to not post their pictures on Facebook?  One might hope so but...?

US Cemetery, Normandy, France
We must remember always what happened seventy years ago today.  Over 10,000 Allied soldiers were killed on June 6, 1944 and many more in the weeks and months to come.  General Patton may have summed it up best when he said,"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."

A visit to Normandy can help all of us, regardless of political ideology, learn a bit more about what it means to be an American.  We can all take pride in what those very young men did seventy years ago.

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on