Wednesday, June 06, 2007

D - Day Tribute

The story of June 6, 1944 is familiar. And 63 years on, D-Day still interests, awes and inspires.

We hear the date and can immediately say, "Sure, Normandy, and they touched down around 6 or 7 AM, didn't they?" We wonder at the courage it took to get to the waterline and then storm the beaches.

This tribute is in impressionist form: three brief "brush strokes" meant to suggest the whole.

The first tells us a lot about the Allied Supreme Commander; in the second we follow a correspondent who sailed for Normandy not with the troops, but with doctors, nurses and corpsmen; and then a correspondent who walked Omaha Beach after the battle and tells us why we should remember it.

We begin on June 5 when General Eisenhower knew the invasion could fail. He prepared a message to be released in the event he had to order a withdrawal.

Eisenhower's penciled message on plain paper contains errors, including a dating of "July 5." Historians agree the errors suggest fatigue. In the months before D-Day, Eisenhower slept only 3 or 4 hours a night. But the quality of the man shines in his message.

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone. July 5.

The men and women of D-Day had a commander worthy of them.

With June 5 giving way to June 6, correspondent Martha Gellhorn prepared to sail for France on a hospital ship. She described for readers what she saw. Here's some of what she wrote which appeared in Aug.'44 in Collier's. (I couldn't find a net link. - JinC):

There was nothing to do now but wait. The big ship felt empty and strange.

There were 422 beds covered with new blankets; and a bright, clean, well-equipped operation room, never before used; great cans marked “Whole Blood” stood on the decks; plasma bottles and supplies of drugs and bales of bandages were stored in handy places. Everything was ready, and any moment we would be leaving for France.

Our ship was snowy white with a green line running along the sides below the deck rail, and with many bright new red crosses painted on the hull and painted flat on the boat deck.

Pulling out of the harbor that night we passed a Liberty ship, going the same way.

The ship was gray against the gray water and the gray sky, and standing on her decks, packed solidly together, khaki, silent and unmoving, were American troops. No one waved and no one called. The crowded gray ship and the empty white ship sailed slowly out of the harbor toward France.

Now, a few days after D-Day, correspondent Ernie Pyle walks along Omaha Beach. Here's part of what he told Americans back home:

You can still see the foxholes they dug at the very edge of the water, in the sand and the small, jumbled rocks that form part of the beach.

Medical corpsmen attended the wounded as best they could. Men were killed as they stepped out of landing craft. An officer whom I knew got a bullet through the head just as the door of his landing craft was let down. Some men were drowned.

Our men were pinned down for a while, but finally they stood up and want through, and so we took that beach and accomplished our landing. We did it with every advantage on the enemy's side and every disadvantage on ours.

Pyle titled his account "A Pure Miracle" , and explained why he wrote it:

In this column I want to tell you what the opening of the second front in this one sector entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.
Know, appreciate, and forever be humbly grateful.

Blackfive has a tribute post today which ends with “go here and here" links. Click on the first "here" and you'll be taken to a number of outstanding D-Day posts that were put up in observance of the 60th Anniversary. They are every bit as informative and inspiring today they were on June 6, 2004.