Monday, June 6, 2011

The Day of Days

67 years ago today, the liberation of Nazi-occupied France and the rest of western Europe began. The armed forces of the United States and her allies had been derided by Hitler, and he sent his best general, Erwin Rommel, to make sure that the French coast was an impenetrable fortress.  The Germans felt so secure behind their Atlantic Wall that they allowed critical senior leaders to take leave during prime campaigning months. 

Hitler scoffed that an army and navy made up of the mongrels from America could stand up to his 'racially pure' Wehrmacht and SS.  Waves of paratroopers, glider infantry, and plain old doughfoots slogging out of the surf proved him wrong.  Navy destroyers, which normally stayed out of range of shore batteries, purposely put themselves in danger to provide fire support to the landing waves.  Army Air Corps pilots, many of whom had never flown in combat before, flew transport or bombing missions under heavy fire.  Green warriors, who had never heard a shot fired in anger, stood up to and defeated an army that had never known defeat and had conquered Europe at breakneck speed.

The fighting at Normandy and the rest of the Western Front pales in comparison to the battles between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front.  But the opening of the Second Front on Juno, Gold, Omaha, Sword, and Utah beaches forced Hitler to fight on two fronts.  He would never concentrate his resources against any single opponent again. 

When I was stationed in Europe, I would occasionally come across an older Belgian, Dutch, or French citizen, and uniformly they would thank me for the sacrifices that my grandfather's generation made for them.  Decades later, grown men would unashamedly weep at the memory of liberation.  What was different about this war from all other wars was our motivation. We fought in Europe to free it from tyranny, not to retaliate against an attack on us. We were not conquerors. We came, we liberated, we rebuilt, we protected, and we went home.

We will probably never see a battle like Operation Overlord again.  The nature of warfare has made the mass use of landing craft and airborne troops almost suicidal.  But the spirit of the American, UK, Canadian, and Free French who attacked Fortress Europe on June 6, 1944 lives on whenever our nations work together to make others free.

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

Good post! I took a different tack, but I like yours better :-)

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