Remembering June 6, 1944

Remembering June 6, 1944

If December 7, 1941 is a day that shall live in infamy, June 6, 1944 is even more important. While the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, the invasion of Normandy Beach was the day that marked the beginning of the end of that global conflict.

Today marks the 80th anniversary of Operation Overlord or D-Day, when around 160,000 Allied soldiers – Americans, British and Canadian stormed the beaches of Normandy. At the time, it was the largest naval, air and land operation in history. Sadly, while it was a stunning victory over the Nazis and Axis powers, approximately 4000 men lost their lives in the attempt to liberate France and end the war.

Laying the Ground Work

The Allied troops riding in boats and attacking the shores of the Cotentin Peninsula is the image most have in their minds of D-Day, thanks in no small part to Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. But they were by no means the only players or moving parts that came together before and after the invasion that brought about the end of the war.

Six months earlier, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed the commander of Operation Overlord. No stranger to battle tactics, he utilized a strange, but effective, strategy. Eisenhower knew the German generals were not stupid, certainly not Erwin Rommel, one of the greatest military minds ever. The Soviets were holding ground on the Russian border of Germany’s territory. France was the obvious place for a wide-scale Allied invasion. And there were only so many entry points. The Nazis would be expecting them.

So, Eisenhower appointed General George S. Patton to lead the First U.S. Army Group. The Germans held Patton in high regard and assumed he would lead any invasion forces. But the First U.S. Army Group only existed on paper. Double agents convinced the German high command that the attack would take place in Pas de Calais, about 250 miles North of Normandy.

Without the work of these spies who had turned to the Allied cause and French Resistance fighters working with agents from British Special Operations Executive and the United States OSS (which would become the CIA), the Germans would have been much better prepared to defend themselves. As it was, the deception was so effective, Germans stayed in Pas de Calais and the faux military group, made up of fake radio calls and paper trails, existed for nearly a year.

From A Certain Point of View

In addition to the ground troops coming in by boat and scattering on shore, bombarded by artillery fire, another less well-known group dropped in first.

The night before the Normandy invasion, the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions dropped thousands of paratroopers, gliders and decoy parachutes loaded with firecrackers into the region of France to either side of Normandy. The plan was to disable German communications, blow up bridges, roads and encampments, distract and generally sow confusion across the future battlefield.

Unfortunately, weather was not on their side. But they went anyway. Uncounted numbers of men were lost, some hung up, some drowned, some shot by the Germans. By the morning of the invasion, some 4000 men were unaccounted for, as was the majority of their equipment.

In the face of sure defeat, the men fought and died to keep the Germans from killing their brothers coming on shore in the early morning hours.

Storming the Castle

The beaches of Normandy were selected because they lay within range of air cover and were less heavily defended – again, thanks to the good deceptive work of the espionage agents who would later inspire James Bond, Napoleon Solo and Jack Ryan. It was also the slightly less obvious choice, since Pas de Calais is closest to the British Isles, just across the English Channel from London.

If you’ve never been to Normandy, France, you might not know it’s not just one beach. There are five: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno & Sword Beaches. Additionally, the ill-fated US paratroopers tried to land at Cherbourg and a similar group of UK paratroopers attempted to take the bridges northeast of Caen. They also failed but their attack drew away the Nazis’ only armored division from the coastline, likely saving thousands of lives.

By the end of August 1944, more than 850,000 US, British and Canadian troops had landed, liberated France and began marching to meet the Soviet soldiers coming from the East. On the way, both sides would liberate more men and women and bear witness to the horrors of concentration camps and the Jewish Holocaust.

Eleven months after the Allied invasion at Normandy, the Germans surrendered unconditionally at Reims, France.

In Memoriam

While it’s not a national holiday, there are some celebrations in DC and Pennsylvania to commemorate the 80th anniversary of so many men giving their all for the cause of freedom. The Eisenhower National Historic Site and Gettysburg National Cemetery will host events today through Sunday, including a large naturalization ceremony welcoming new citizens to the United States.

Normandy American Cemetery in France will host a commemorative event that you can stream from their website starting at 6:30 A.M. EDT. Earlier this week, the Florida Elks Association sent four surviving World War II veterans from the Sunshine State to Normandy one last time for the anniversary.

Although we just celebrated Memorial Day, this weekend could be another good time to once again kick off summer by remembering those who fought in World War II. You can have a BBQ or invite friends and family over to relax and watch a film – we suggest Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, Band of Brothers, or The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

Now that summer and the rainy season have kicked off, you’ll want to protect yourself, your family and guests from mosquitoes. May we suggest our exclusive No Bite Zones Mosquito Protection Program that turns biting momma mosquitoes into vegans? It’s safe for you and lets the mosquitoes keep fulfilling their God-given job of pollinating without feasting on your blood. For more details, please give us a call!


Tags: d-day, freedom
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