“You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.” — President Ronald Reagan from his speech “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc” on 6 June 1984
Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces. D-Day. The largest naval and air assault in the history of the world. The beginning of the end of Nazism. I hope all of us were able to take a few minutes to remember the brave men who came ashore that day in order to save a continent and to restore the security and safety of all nations through the destruction of tyranny.
Their determination, fortitude and valor cannot be overstated. While movies such as “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan” try to capture the intensity, confusion and terror of that day, none of us that did not experience it first hand can truly know what it was like. Hell on earth.
Why did they do it? In the abstract it was for democracy and our country and the knowledge that our American way of life was threatened. They did it to restore freedom to oppressed people across Europe. They did it because it was the right thing to do. They did it because they understood honor, sacrifice, discipline and taking on the tough jobs. As the doors of the airplanes opened and they jumped into the darkness and the ramps on the HIggins boats dropped, they did it for each other. No one wanted to let their buddies down. Average men rightly honored as the best our country has to offer.
It wasn’t easy. Casualties on D-Day for U.S. forces are estimated at 1,465 dead and 3,184 wounded. 1,928 were declared missing and presumed dead. 26 were captured. The heaviest casualties were on Omaha beach and among the airborne troops. Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing in the course of the Battle of Normandy. 9,387 Americans are buried in Normandy near Colleville-sur-Mer including Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. the son of President Teddy Roosevelt who was in the first wave ashore and including forty-five sets of brothers. All of these lives were sacrificed “for the common cause of humanity” as declared on the inscription over the chapel at the cemetery. Boys mostly. 18 and 20 year old kids that would never make it home to family and friends. Forever young. Those boys that survived are now in their nineties and this is likely the last major celebration of the landing that will include those who were actually there.
Many tragic stories surround the invasion. Perhaps the impact of the dangers that they faced can best be represented by the good citizens of Bedford Virginia. Of the 220 soldiers in Alpha Company, 116th Regiment, 29th Division, thirty-five were from Bedford. Alpha Company was among those most devastated when the ramps for the landing craft dropped. They lost 103 men that day, of which 19 were from that small town in Virginia. A life changing event for those left behind.
Alongside the Americans came the British and Canadians. Elements of forces from France, Poland, and other nations parachuted into the country or rode the waves to the beach. French Resistance forces came out of the woodwork to harass and delay the German response. It was the best the world had to offer working in concert.
On the beach at Normandy the seeds of the world as we now know it were planted. The cooperation of the Allies in that endeavor begat the creation of NATO, the European Union and other economic and security organizations meant to preclude future wars in Europe and to foster the well-being of freedom loving people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It worked.
None of these men considered themselves heroes. They did not want to let their buddy or their family down. They had a job to do and they did it. They realized that they were part of something bigger than themselves and they were willing to sacrifice anything, including their lives for the greater good and the well-being of others.
Those men understood the dangers. They went forward anyway. To them it was not to put America first, it was to put the freedom of the world first. As a nation, we should take this time to reflect upon the incredible achievements of our “greatest generation” who led the way in war and in peace. They are the soul of our country and they reflect our core values. Well done, men. Rest easy.
Let us pray for our leaders today, that they have the same understanding of sacrifice, honor, and dedication to doing the right thing.
Yesterday, 4 June, marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway Island in 1942 where the U.S. Navy defeated the Imperial Japanese Navy and reversed Allied fortunes in the Pacific campaign. Prior to the battle, the Japanese were on the offensive throughout the Pacific area. Following the battle, they fought a series of defensive operations and steadily retreated back to the home islands.
In a nutshell, the battle entailed an all-in strategy by the U.S. commanders, Commander-in-Chief Pacific Admiral Chester Nimitz and the tactical commanders Rear Admirals Raymond Spruance and Frank Jack Fletcher. Thanks to cryptologists that broke the Japanese code, the U.S. was aware of the Japanese plan to attack Midway Island and presumably, remove the U.S. from any further ability to thwart Japanese expansion. The attack on Midway was accompanied by a nearly simultaneous (due to circumstances the attacks were actually a day apart) on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska — an attempt to remove U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft from being in range of the Japanese home islands.
In the battle four Japanese aircraft carriers went up against three from the U.S. Navy. In short, all four Japanese carriers — Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu — sank, along with the resulting loss of airplanes, pilots and crews. They also lost a heavy cruiser, a destroyer, and other ships were badly damaged. The Japanese Navy was never able to recover from those losses as their industrial capacity simply could not replace what was lost, along with the lack of seasoned pilots. The U.S. Navy lost one carrier, the USS Yorktown and one destroyer. Military historians such as John Keegan call the victory “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”
Without going into all the details of the battle, it is apparent that there many instances of heroic actions. In our present days of troubled times and divisive political arguments, I find it worthy to focus on a small, but significant portion of the battle. I trust that today, we can find men (and now women) that hold the same high level of selflessness, courage and devotion as those of the torpedo squadrons of the Douglas TBD Devastators from VT-3 on Yorktown, VT-6 on Enterprise, and VT-8 from the Hornet. These airplanes flew low and slow in order to attack surface ships with torpedoes. In order to get the torpedo on target, it meant a long, slow, straight approach into the teeth of the Japanese air defenses.
The Devastators were on their own due to inexperience on the part of the American commanders coupled with the desire to strike the Japanese first. Therefore they launched their aircraft piecemeal which resulted in an uncoordinated attack by the torpedo bombers without fighter escorts. They were doomed. Of the forty-one aircraft launched, thirty-five were lost attacking the targets, with no hits against the enemy. On each of those airplanes, a three-man crew piloted and fought the aircraft. A heavy loss of life. The aircraft was never used again in battle in the Pacific.
Their sacrifice secured the victory because while the Japanese were preoccupied with the torpedo bombers, they became confused as to the big picture. This allowed the Navy’s dive bombers and remaining fighter escorts to arrive over their targets virtually undetected and caught the bulk of the Japanese aircraft on the deck of the carriers while refueling and rearming. Three Japanese carriers were destroyed in about five minutes and the fourth sank from its damage later in the day.
The pilots and crews of the Devastators did not think that they were on a suicide mission. No one expects anything bad to happen to them, individually, when on a mission. Yet, they understood the odds and that they weren’t good. By the time of the battle, the U.S Navy knew that the aircraft was obsolete and vulnerable, but no replacement aircraft had yet made it to the fleet. Additionally, once over the Japanese fleet they knew that they were alone, without fighter escort, and had no idea where the dive bombers might be. They knew that the plan, a coordinated attack with all forms of aircraft striking the Japanese simultaneously was out the window. They were on their own. And yet, they went forward, alone.
As we argue over less important issues today, it serves us well to remember the sacrifices made by those that went before us. They knew that they were involved in a cause bigger than their individual lives, and they knew that only true sacrifice would carry the day. Along with our thoughts as a grateful nation, we should also step back and think of our own lives and ability to follow in their foot steps.
We can all benefit from their selfless example.