The Longest Day
ricknight | June 6, 2007 at 03:51 amby
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It's the anniversary of the biggest military invasion in history, D-Day, (1944). It's when the Allied armies launched the invasion of Normandy. Dwight D. Eisenhower had planned the invasion, and had been arguing for it ever since America got into the war after Pearl Harbor. Most British military commanders thought it was too risky. Winston Churchill was particularly nervous about the idea of invading France.
But Eisenhower finally won the argument, and the Allies built dozens or airfields in Great Britain, stockpiled millions of tons of weapons and supplies, built tent cities along the ports of the English Channel where tens of thousands of soldiers would live.
The German commanders knew an invasion was coming. They'd spent weeks fortifying their positions, but the Allies had deceived the Nazis into thinking the invasion would come in near the French-Belgian border. They had a number of battle ships across from that point in the channel, and the Nazis took the bait and concentrated a good deal of their defensive forces in the wrong place.
June 6, 1944, was a foggy morning. Sometime after dawn, the English Channel was full of shipsa huge armada1,200 fighting ships, 10,000 planes, more than 150,000 troops, a little more than half of them American. The plan was to bomb the beach to create craters in the sand for foxholes, and then send the ground troops up the beach.
When the troops reached the shore, they saw that the bombers had missed all of their targets. There was no protection on the beach. The landing craft were hit by a barrage of bullets. In less than a half an hour, more than two-thirds of the first company to reach the shore was killed. At first, the American commanders thought that the invasion had failed, but the first troops made some progress, and the second wave came in and slowly took over the fortified positions above the beach. By nightfall, more than 150,000 Allied troops had landed in France.
The Germans had tank divisions that could have driven the Allies back into the sea, but they got conflicting orders from the high command and didn't start to attack until late in the afternoon, almost ten hours after the invasion had started. The German commander said at the time, "If we don't succeed in throwing the Allies into the sea, we will have lost the war." The German tanks got to within three miles of the shore and then were driven back by Allied tanks and anti-tank guns, and no German unit ever again got so close to the beaches. Many historians saw that as the turning point of the war.
From the Writer's Almanac by Garrison Keillor. Available by e-mail daily.
Pentagon chief honors D-Day troops
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates has paid tribute to the troops who landed at Normandy on this date in 1944, tying their memory to the challenge of today's war on terrorism.
Gates says the US and allied soldiers landed on the beach in France on D-Day to destroy entrenched forces of oppression in hopes the world could one day know peace. Gates says the world once again faces "enemies seeking to destroy our way of life."
The D-Day invasion turned the tide of World War Two. Gates and his French counterpart marked today's 63rd anniversary at ceremonies dedicating a new visitors' center at the Normandy American Cemetery, the burial ground for more than 9,300 war dead.
Editorial: Remember D-Day today, always
Sixty-three years ago today — June 6, 1944 — 6,603 Americans died in one of the most horrendous invasions in history. Under cover of night, 175,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of northern France at a place called Normandy. More than 10,000 of them died there, and those who didn't began the push that eventually would free Europe — and the world — of a man named Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich.
Most of the heroic soldiers who lived to talk about that brutal attack are modest about their role in the invasion and the terrifying weeks and months that followed. Most were just kids barely old enough to vote, but they had the courage and determination to help save the world.
They were people like the late Ed Slusarczyk, who died this past December. Slusarczyk volunteered for the Army after graduating from Holland Patent Central School and found himself on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. He survived the horror of the initial surge, but soon thereafter, his left leg was shattered in the Battle of St. Lo. Snipers also shot him on both sides of his body, shattering ribs. The man who would go on to become one of the nation's most respected sources on agricultural issues suffered leg pain for the rest of his life and walked with a limp, but he rarely talked about it or the Purple Heart he received.
Such modesty defines our stoic World War II fighters, now in the twilight of their lives. D-Day is not generally marked in any grand fashion — we save the picnics and parades for other patriotic days. Nevertheless, do not let this day pass without thanking a veteran, because it was on this day that the foundation of freedom was secured for generations to come.
D-Day invasion memories still fresh for Hobart man
The landing craft launched about 10 miles from shore and slowly approached in V-formation. Nearing their target, with about a mile to go, they formed a straight line.
Reeners estimated they made it to the coast at 9 a.m. But it's impossible to measure time. "Time is nonexistent in a situation like this," he said. "The nights and days run into each other."
There were bullets everywhere.
"You hear those bullets popping around you in the sands and you're just waiting for one to nail you," Reeners said.
Reeners said he'll never forget the sight of a German pilot parachuting from his stricken airplane.
"This man floating down waving a white flag … Thirty seconds ago he was trying to kill me," he said.
But on that day there were no prisoners of war. Despite his white flag, he was riddled with bullets.
"I don't know why, but this has haunted me all my life," Reeners said.
While all the men with Reeners survived, he knows they were lucky.
"Those of us that survived will carry that guilt," Reeners said. "Why you survived and others didn't."
The D-day invasion from 2,000 feet
Not everyone among the Allied forces charged up onto the Normandy beaches on that fateful day in history 63 years ago.
A great many -- such as Oceanside's Bill Ryherd, then 24 -- were flying overhead, dropping tons of bombs in an attempt to pave the way for the ground troops wading ashore on Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword, and Gold beaches. The D-day invasion on June 6, 1944, would be supported by more than 13,000 bombers, fighters and transport aircraft.
"I knew it was a momentous occasion, but I really didn't know just how big it was until I was flying over the (English) Channel," Ryherd said. "There were so many ships that you could have walked from England to France and never have gotten your feet wet."
Ryherd, now 87, was then a 1st lieutenant in the 598th squadron, 397th bomb group of the 9th Army Air Corps, piloting a B-26 Martin "Marauder" bomber. The 9th was a part of the largest armada ever assembled.
His B-26, considered a "medium" bomber, was one of the more than 5,000 bombers flying over Hitler's "Fortress Europe." Later that morning, more than 176,000 Allied troops waded ashore on five beaches along France's Normandy coast.
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