By Joe Darby
By the time you are reading this, they would have been involved in desperate fighting for several hours already. It’s those young men who hit the beach in Normandy exactly 75 years ago, June 6, 1944, that I’m talking about.
France is several hours ahead of us, so by midday Louisiana time on June 6, 1944, they would have been at it for a good while. The very youngest of them, who would have been 18 or perhaps even 17, would be in their early 90s now. Many would be in their mid or late 90s. Or, like most of them, they will have passed away in the years since D-Day.
They were kids from America’s big cities and small towns, country boys, manual laborers, office workers, professionals, the whole gamut. They also came from the towns and country side of Great Britain as well as the cities and prairies of Canada.
You probably remember the code names of the beaches — Utah, Omaha, Gold, Sword, Juno. From west to east, two American, two British and one Canadian. They were all in it together.
Omaha was the toughest. There, the Germans were set up on a bluff over the beach of the English Chanel, or La Manche as the French call it. They had clear fields of fire down on the beach as well as many physical obstacles designed to sink or disrupt our landing craft. But by day’s end, the beach was secured. And soon the troops would be moving inland.
For the Western Allies, this was the climatic battle, D-Day, Operation Overlord, the invasion of France that would be the beginning of the end of the war against Hitler’s Germany. The Soviet Union had been in a life and death struggle with Germany since June 1941 and paid a heavier burden in the number of lives lost.
But D-Day was key to the overall victory. The US had been waging war on two fronts since December 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. But the mighty industrial strength and abundant manpower of our nation enabled us to successfully carry out a two-front war. We had the strength to do it all.
In 1983 I had the extraordinary privilege of visiting the landing beaches. I looked down on Omaha from a German bunker and walked along the bluff-top that was captured by US Army Rangers, as depicted in the movie, The Longest Day. But by far the most poignant moment was a visit to the beautiful American Cemetery up above Omaha Beach. The white crosses and Stars of David seemingly stretch endlessly across the pristine, green French grass.
So many young lives snuffed out, so many hopes and dreams ended, so many grieving parents, spouses and siblings back home. But we must say it was a sacrifice worthwhile. It was a job that had to be done, and those fallen warriors did it.
This 75th anniversary will almost certainly be the last major commemoration that the veterans will be able to participate in. I recall reading of a reunion of the Civil War veterans of the 1863 battle of Gettysburg 75 years later, in 1938. That was those old heroes’ last hurrah. So 2019 will be the same for our D-Day heroes.
But, they will not be forgotten. As long as Western civilization lasts, they will be remembered, I am confident. Barring some world-wide catastrophe, I expect that in 2044, for the 100th, and in 2144 for the 200th, and so on into the future, people will gather to commemorate the battle. After all, in just a few years we will be celebrating the 250th anniversary of our American Revolutionary War.
We will continue to remember all the fallen warriors. We will continue to honor them and to revere them. God bless ’em all. Now and forever, Amen.