Monday, June 8, 2015

D + 25,932

Saturday marked the 71st anniversary of the D-Day. (No, not USD’s homecoming)

Operation Neptune, the landings in Normandy, France. “The greatest day of the 21st century,” according to Baylor University Professor Ray Starman.

I have, for many years, greeted my friends and comrades with “Happy DDays,” upon the anniversary much like people salute “Merry Christmas.” They always think I am a little off. But I believe that if any day deserves remembrance it was June 6th 1944.

In order to breach Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and raise the flag upon the rampart of fortress Europa the Allies would be assembling the most complicated international alliance, delivered via the most numerous littoral fleet, to assault the most heavily defended coastline, with the largest amphibious force ever uniformed, supported by the most numerous air-force ever to have taken flight.
All to defeat the most dangerous enemy we have ever known.

One heckuva case of The Mondays… And, of course, like so many things, the invasion was completely dependent upon the predications of a meteorologist.
 In overall command was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, future president of the United States. 14 nations allied together, 2100 transport planes, 6000 ships and landing craft, 2 million men. The weight of the free world brought to bare. An unstoppable force arrayed against an immovable object.

Just after midnight on June 5th, set as D-Day, CinC Eisenhower was standing at the window of his English cottage, chain-smoking, chain-worrying and counting raindrops as they fell against the pane. A penciled draft of a conciliatory note lay upon his bureau. It read:

"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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." (National Archives)

The forecast for the 5th was bleak, the operation postponed. That evening, upon hearing of a break in the weather Eisenhower gave the go ahead and distributed the following message to the troops:

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

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 the oppressed peoples of Europe, and

security for ourselves in a free world. 

“I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will 

accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty

God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

Second Lieutenant William J. McCormick, 01295577, was one such soldier. My Grandmother relates his story to me: Her uncle, a paratrooper, landed with the 101st Airborne Division in France before dawn on that momentous day.

 “Red” McCormick, as his buddies called him, died defending a bridge against an armored counter-attack as the sun set on the Norman countryside. He was 22 years old, his birthday was June 6th.

In the end, it happened on a Tuesday. No one ever read the note General Eisenhower penciled while entertaining his darkest despair as history has written the victory of Operation Overlord into the books.

I say “Happy DDay,” not to celebrate the carnage of that day but to venerate the colossal undertaking and achievement of so many men and women 71 years ago. 332 of those men and women are honored at our memorial on Lake Arlington.

I never knew Red. The only two things we have in common, that I can be sure of, are some genetics and that I was, once, also a 22-year-old Second Lieutenant. From his sacrifice I gather strength in the understanding that nothing is impossible, if we can overcome Hitler’s Atlantic Wall – together we can accomplish anything we set ourselves to.

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