There is very little I can add to the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings that began the liberation of France and Northern Europe. There are already so many moving tributes and images that my weak words will add little to this great outpouring. Nonetheless, it is appropriate that each of us contribute our mite, because it ensures that the sacrifice of so many for so much shall never be forgotten.
General Dwight Eisenhower had a terrible responsibility on his shoulders on June 5th – the weather over the English Channel was very problematic, and any sort of storm at all would turn the airborne and amphibious landings into fiascos. Yet the Supreme Allied Commander made his fateful choice and his determination never wavered: 156,000 immortals began their final preparations to “embark on the Great Crusade”. Fortune favors the bold and this was no exception; German meteorologists had declared the weather too bad for an invasion and key German leaders were on furlough.
First lead the brave glider and paratroopers: in the darkest night, they braved the flak to land behind the enemy’s lines. Scattered though they were, they seized bridges, sowed confusion and prevent the concentration of German forces.
At day break, the invasion fleet appeared on the horizon, the largest flotilla ever seen at that time: eight different navies comprising almost 7,000 vessels. The guns spoke and the soldaten were subjected to an unprecedented and merciless bombardment. Even so, the Germans fought with the same bravery and determination they have always shown. Before the day was done, the beaches were consecrated by comingled dead: 4,414 Allied and over 1,000 German dead. Thus were the names Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah and Omaha seared onto our memories.
At the end of the first day, none of the invasion objectives had been captured. 150,000 men were crammed into 10 miles of beach, only a mile or two deep. Over the coming days, however, more men and equipment would pour into the beaches and slowly expand the front. While our British and Canadian allies fought and died in front of the meat grinder called Caen, the Americans would push into Carentan, capture Cherbourg and eventually break out in the first great encirclement battle of the West, at Falaise. Eventually, all the Commonwealth nations would be there; Free France and Free Poland would be there; representatives of every color and creed, of every free nation would fight and sacrifice to overthrow the dark night of tyranny, oppression and evil.
The bravery of the men at Normandy is unquestioned; and their fighting skills unparalleled. But while we acknowledge them, let us not forgot others who made their victory possible. Between January and May 1944, the Fifth and Eight Armies launched four major assaults on the Gustav Line in Italy, in order to finally break through and take Rome on June 4th. The Allies suffered 43,000 casualties and tied up 135,000 German soldiers. Even more importantly, the Soviets launched the First Jassy-Kishinev Offensive in the Ukraine and Eastern Romania. The Red Army massed 830,000 men against 300,000 Germans and Romanians: when the operation ended on June 6th, the Soviets had suffered 150,000 casualties: as many men as the Allies landed in Normandy that same day. The Wehrmacht had 6 out of 10 divisions in the Eastern Front from 1943 to 1945.
Why We Fight
The soldiers who fought and died on the coast of France did so for as many reasons as there were individuals: for freedom; for democracy; for England, home and beauty; because the country called; because they were ashamed not to. Once they were in combat, they fought for their brothers in the squad and platoon, to not let them down. But whatever their personal reasons, we should never forget the larger reasons that drove the world to madness and forced a great combination of nations to shed so much blood to return it to sanity:
They fought to obliterate the ideologies of hate:
They fought to avenge the victims of genocide:
They fought to lift the odious curse of nationalism and extremism:
The fought to destroy evil, but evil lingers on in our hearts. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” said Edmund Burke. We remain too close to the precipice for complacency or timidity. Today is as good a day as any, and better than most, for good men and women of the world to re-dedicate themselves to the struggle against evil. What we tolerate today, we condemn our children to suffer tomorrow.