Sixty-five years ago today, D-Day happened.
It was the beginning of the end for Hitler’s Germany, though it would still be a long haul, but the Allies were determined. There were many memorable battles in World War II, but this one always stands out, the mists parting to reveal to Germans hunkered down in bunkers on the Normandy coastline the staggering sight of thousands of ships, stretching all the way back to England, the Allied armada the grandest sight since the Spanish Armada of centuries ago.
The beaches that day were divided: some were bloody but went according to plan. Others were hell on earth. Saving Private Ryan, as horrifying as that movie was, only scratched the surface of what it was really like.
The Americans, British, Canadians, French, and a host of other countries stormed those beaches that early morning of June 6th,
The Allies would finally breach the Western Front, their boots following in the footsteps of ancestors a generation ago, in Belleau Wood and the Ardennes and on to the Rhine. The worst storm in living memory would destroy the D-Day supply ships just days after landing, but the Allies would still come. The worst winter in living memory would plague the Allies in 1944/1945, giving the Germans a chance in the Battle for the Bulge in December of 1944, but D-Day had given the Allies the foothold, and the Germans were in full retreat by January of 1945.
The Underground heard the coded message on the hidden radios on the BBC, and knew that it was time.
The Germans would finally have to fight a two-front war without benefit of the English Channel between them and Great Britain and the United States.
Back in the United States, it was still the middle of the night as the landings began. In small towns and big cities church bells began to ring, and in that long-ago pre-Internet era, word spread like wildfire. The invasion of Europe had begun! The Second Front was going to be established.
People poured out of their homes and talked and celebrated, joyous over the long-awaited invasion.
And fear underlay it all.
What if the Allies failed and were driven back into the sea?
And would their loved ones survive?
No participant in D-Day had been allowed to tell anyone back home if they were part of the armada, but if you were on active duty in the European Theater, chances were excellent that you were going to land on those beaches.
FDR went on the radio and gave a solemn speech, his own sons serving in the War, and his steady, patrician tones helped calm and inspire people, and gave them hope.
The radios were turned on that night and all into the next day, and the newspapers put out extra editions with newsboy calling, “Extra! Extra!” and the type on the front page big and black and tall. The Second Front would join the Eastern Front, the Allies pushing from the West and the Russians from the East in a giant pincer move, eventually crushing Nazi Germany between them the following year.
The combatants had it the worst in this war, to be sure, but people on the homefront always lived with the fear: fear of that telegram telling them a loved one was missing or dead, fear of the officers coming up to the front door, grave and solemn, and the blue star on the red-and-white ribbon in the window turning gold.
Ever seen a documentary on the War? It amazes me that more men didn’t come back basket cases. They had to harden their hearts against the blood and death and atrocities, and some still went mad.
And back home, always the fear.
The Greatest Generation, and those who fought the next brutal war in Korea a mere handful of years later, sacrificed much for this country and all the countries who loved freedom.
But D-Day was the beginning of the end.