You know, it’s really gotten out of vogue to mention D Day. I’m sure it doesn’t even make it to most calendars any more. Kind of like VJ Day. Anyone remember VJ day? “Victory over Japan”. Because almost 70 years ago, we were at war with them. They hit us with a knockout blow right off the bat, and almost broke us. We had to fight back, and hard. If the distance between Japan and the East Coast (or the West!) of the US weren’t so far… they could have run right across us and conquered the US easily. As a matter of fact, they took some of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, and the Alaskans simply let them have them for the winter.
By the time the winter was over, the Coast Guard sent one boat to pick up the prisoners, who were surrendering without a shot. If Japan had waited until Spring to attack Pearl Harbor, and sent those soldiers to Alaska with much more in the way of food…
We’d be speaking Japanese right now. Shigata ga nai, neh?
Anyway, on this day in 1944, millions of US soldiers boarded Higgins landing craft (made mostly of plywood) and headed out into the pre-dawn hours towards Normandy. The 29th Army was in the first wave of the attack, and almost was destroyed once the Germans opened fire.
Almost a third of the men in the first wave had to deal with British boat captains, civilians, who stopped the landing crafts far from the beaches, and ordered the men to jump in and swim to shore. The men were weighted down with almost 100 pounds of equipment, and sank straight to the bottom of the Channel. Specially designed tanks that were supposed to ride on the water were released into the water, in seas far rougher than they were designed for, sank without a trace.
most of them made it to the beaches, hiding behind anything that protected them from German machine guns. General Cota was hiding behind sand dunes, when he turned around and shouted the words that literally saved the invasion, and all the lives of the men on the beaches. “We’re getting killed on the beaches, we might as well go a little further in and get killed there!”
It was what the men needed to hear. Like George Patton said in World War I, “sometimes a soldier just needs to hear someone say, ‘follow me!'”
The men charged forward, determined to get off the beaches into the town. The German 88’s that were pounding the beaches suddenly were silenced, thanks to less than a dozen men in the Airborne – Easy Company, assisted by one man from another company in the Airborne, and the jeep driver for the commander of the entire battalion, who had no idea his driver went awol to go fight in the battle.
THe 29th was so decimated that they had to combine entire companies of it, since many of them were wiped out to the last man.
One of the members of Easy Company was told by noon that he was going back to the US, as his other four brothers in the 29th were killed earlier that day. The 2nd Division was left to guard what they’d captured, since so many men were dead and wounded.
A Stars & Stripes newspaper interview with one of the men in the 29th records his motivation. “Heros? We’re not heros. We did what we had to.”