65th Anniversary of D-Day

I just watched the ceremony, and as always, was left wondering what my life would have been like had I gone through something horrifying like that. We owe those guys so much.

Every D-Day, my thoughts always return to the boys of Bedford, Virginia. Here is a post I wrote several years ago remembering all that they sacrificed. I’m not sure what I could add to that.






91 replies
  1. 1
    JenJen says:

    President Obama did an excellent job today, and of course I had that usual jerky reaction when he walked to the podium… is this guy really the President? Sometimes it just takes a minute to sink in, still!

    I try to never miss a D-Day ceremony when on TV, and finally, about seven years ago now, made the trip to Normandy and saw the American Cemetery and the beaches for myself. It was a very emotional and moving experience, and I think it is a sort of pilgrimage that all Americans, if they are able, should make one day.

    But when I watched today, I was thinking about something that happened the first time I visited the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC, just a few years ago. It was a hot, hot day, and a lot of tourists had pulled off their shoes and were soaking their toes in the beautiful reflecting pool. I wanted to as well, but something about it struck me as wrong. I started chatting to one of those little old men with his badges and hat, a WWII veteran, and I asked him if he thought it was OK, or if it was disrespectful, for us to be soaking our toes in the pool, on what felt like sacred ground.

    He thought about it for a minute, put his arm around me, and finally said, “Well, why do you think we fought?”

    I will never forget him, or his words, or that summer day, for the rest of my life. God Bless these Men. Memory Eternal.

  2. 2
    mellowjohn says:

    for a quick and compelling read about the town of bedford and the effect d-day had on it, i highly recommend “the bedford boys” by alex kershaw,

  3. 3
    smiley says:

    FYI, I just saw on CNN that the monument to the boys of Bedford is in dire financial straits and needs additional support (i.e., donations).

    Added: Here’s the web site – http://www.dday.org/

  4. 4
    The Saff says:

    When I watched Ken Burns’s documentary “The War” on PBS a couple years back, I gained a whole new respect for what our vets and the folks on the home front went through during World War II. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest it highly. Definitely worth investing the time to watch.

    I can’t imagine what those guys went through when they landed on the beaches on D-Day.

  5. 5
    SGEW says:

    Don’t think I’d ever read that one back in the day. A great piece of writing, and a truly affecting one as well.

    I’ll lift a toast to the boys of Bedford tonight, I will.

  6. 6
    JenJen says:

    By the way, HBO has “Band of Brothers” on demand through today, I think. I’ve made it all the way through again, to what I think was the best episode, “The Breaking Point”, which was the segment after Bastogne, while still in the Bulge, fighting for the city of Foy. I’ll watch the final three episodes this evening.

    Those men from Easy Company… it is just impossible to describe their valor and bravery. I’m always moved by that scene of Lt. Spiers, running across the battlefield, and the Germans are so stunned, they don’t even shoot at him at first.

    It seems as though “Band of Brothers” gets better each time I watch it; you become so familiar with the men after seeing it a few times. It was difficult to keep the large cast straight the first time through.

    It was nice to learn that Tom Hanks has been made an honorary Army Ranger. He really has given the nation a gift, by helping to preserve the memories and experiences of WWII through film, for future generations. Thank you, Tom! And I’m looking forward to “The Pacific” which I believe starts next year.

  7. 7
    SGEW says:

    He thought about it for a minute, put his arm around me, and finally said, “Well, why do you think we fought?”

    By the way, I love this country.

  8. 8
    JenJen says:

    @SGEW: I love this country, too. With all of my heart.

    I can’t believe how many times I’ve cried today; something about this year’s Ceremony was more poignant, and sadder than others. I think it is the realization that these men will not be with us much longer.

    And I absolutely cannot think of that wonderful veteran and what he said to me without tears running down my face, I really can’t.

  9. 9
    smiley says:

    @JenJen:

    It was nice to learn that Tom Hanks has been made an honorary Army Ranger.

    Hanks was there today. Shook hands with the preident.

  10. 10
    Marc says:

    @JenJen:

    TV critic Alan Sepinwall is running reviews of the “Band of Brothers” series on his site. Nice stuff there.

  11. 11
    The Saff says:

    Last summer when we were in DC, I saw a WWII vet at the WWII Memorial. At the time, I wanted to walk up to him and thank him for his service, but I chickened out. Now I wish I would’ve said something.

  12. 12
    kid bitzer says:

    that was a hell of a post, john.

    kinda funny to see the comment thread–there are only twelve comments in it. that was before you became a cult.

    oh, the beaches. i have been to normandy, seen the mulberries, seen some of the emplacements. even a few years ago, you could still see german guns in place–big seven inch coastal guns in massive concrete pillboxes at longues sur mer.

    it’s all so goddamn sickening. and good to be reminded of it.

  13. 13
    JenJen says:

    @Marc: Oh yeah, it was on Sepinwall’s site that I first learned HBO had the whole show up on demand since Memorial Day! Alan is a real treasure, and a damned good writer, isn’t he?

    Don’t know how many of you were watching this morning, but honestly, I gotta give it up for Fox News, because their coverage was outstanding. I was really interested in a veteran of the 101st who was in the studio with Chris Wallace; he told amazing stories, got choked up several times, and in turn everyone on set got misty-eyed. I was especially moved by him saying that we all have to remember that when they were 19 year-old men, they had 10 years of the Depression under their belts, and it had hardened them. He said he thinks the nation could take another war, but he added, “Damn it, I don’t ever want to see another Depression.”

    I can’t even imagine. Can any of us?

  14. 14
    REN says:

    WW2 history is one of my passions. Particularly accounts written by footsoldiers, not historians or generals. Read “With the Old Breed” by Eugene Sledge,a Marine who served on Peleliu and Okinawa for an unvarnished account of combat against the Japanese.

    I guarantee it will give you a greater appreciation for those things that many of us take for granted, and that 500,000 Americans died for in this war. Just stop for one moment and contemplate that number.

  15. 15
    The Saff says:

    Apparently, Ken Burns made “The War” because he wanted to get an oral history from those people who served in the armed forces and who were doing their part for the war effort on the home front. I think he said he was alarmed at how little the younger generations knew about WWII.

    My question is, do schools even teach much history any more? It seems that with standardizing testing, schools mostly teach math and English. Apologies for my ignorance because I don’t have kids (well, I have the feline kind).

    I was very impressed with President Obama’s speech, too.

  16. 16
    gex says:

    @JenJen: Neither can I. Your tale brought tears to my eyes.

    Bless those men.

  17. 17
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    Video of the ceremony up on C-Span.

    Front page says “coming soon” but it’s here at that link.

    Most awesome place I’ve ever visited, and I mean that in the older sense.

  18. 18
    Tom says:

    Watched Saving Private Ryan last night. Not the biggest fan of the film overall (did they really need to have the German Hanks set free kill him at the end?), but the D-Day invasion opening simply awe-inspiring. I remember wanting to leave the theatre after it because it was so intense. It’s almost like everything Spielberg had learned up to that point was so he could film that sequence. It’s really unbelievable.

  19. 19
    dbrown says:

    @REN:I believe your number is incorrect – most historians/sources give about 290,000 American service members killed in all theaters of operations (with over 670,000 wounded; how many of these died before their time is not known and would certainly drive the number higher but that is not how it is done.)

  20. 20
  21. 21
    trollhattan says:

    The movie theater is as close as I’ll ever get to a shooting war, and those men of D-Day (and all who’ve served like them) are the reason why. It’s now a time of passage as the last veterans of the war die and we’re left to tell their tale–both in tribute and as a warning to generations to come.

    Growing up, nearly every dad in the neighborhood had served in WWII, and now that I think of it there were far fewer stories told than one would think. I suspect it was a combination of wanting to leave that part of their lives well in the past and that none of them felt terribly special, since the entire nation had been swept into the conflict.

    My father served on a carrier in the Pacific and while he never said this directly, after having been through the Okinawa campaign had to have been vastly relieved that we didn’t go on to invade the Japanese mainland. Next to the Russian front, that would have been a vast bloodbath of unimaginable savagery.

  22. 22
    SGEW says:

    @Tom: Saving Private Ryan is a deeply paradoxical film: a treacly, stereotypical, cliche-ridden rehash of 1950’s pulp war films bookended by two of the most accomplished battle scene set-pieces ever committed to film (imho, the Normandy scene is probably the finest battle scene in American cinema history). All of the worst aspects of Spielberg’s craft sandwiched between extraordinary brilliance.

    Personally, I tend to think it’s because Janusz Kaminski (the D.P.) is a genius and Spielberg’s kind of a hack, but others disagree. After all, the sound design was a masterwork too.

    [American Cinematographer had a great article on shooting the Normandy scene, but I can’t find it online: this link has a summary. From a cinematography perspective, that scene is simply mindblowing.]

  23. 23
    REN says:

    The number is certainly in dispute, no question about that. It all depends on the source and their methodology. Many sources have never reconciled all the MIA or included non-combat military deaths from accidents, disease etc.

  24. 24
    JenJen says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim: It really is incredible, isn’t it? Once you’ve been to Normandie, it never leaves your blood.

    Where did you stay? I was planning on just one night in Bayeux, but became so seducted by its charms, I stayed for three nights. Mmmm… Calvados! And truly wonderful locals who actually want to engage Americans in conversation! In addition to the many Operation Overlord sites in the surrounding area, the Bayeux Tapestry is not to be missed. An extraordinary historical document about a very different war, a very, very, very long time ago.

    Oh, I just hope that the younger generations understand and honor WWII. I’m a Gen Xer myself, and both of my grandfathers fought in the Phillipines; a great uncle survived the Bataan Death March, and another great uncle flew missions in the China-Burma-India theater. I worry that we are the last generation to feel connected to this moment in history through our grandparents’ experiences; it was a time where freedom was truly in danger, and yet, all that is good somehow prevailed. I just don’t want it all to melt away; I think it is this realization that made today’s Ceremony somehow sadder than prior ones.

  25. 25
    Screamin' Demon says:

    @dbrown:

    Wikipedia gives the total U.S. military deaths as 416,837.

    Battle deaths totaled 292,131.

  26. 26
    dbrown says:

    @REN: Very true.

  27. 27
    trollhattan says:

    p.s. To John Cole.

    Just read the linked piece–very well done sir. And may I say with no snark intended that “fields of ire” is the most apt typo ever.

  28. 28
    Notorious P.A.T. says:

    Here’s to our veterans. During WWII my grandpa was stationed at the Aleutian Islands–during winter. That was no Normandy but I think it was pretty tough.

  29. 29
    R-Jud says:

    @SGEW:

    imho, the Normandy scene is probably the finest battle scene in American cinema history

    I mentioned it in the Memorial Day thread, but my late great-uncle landed at D-Day, and the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan really brought it back to him in an upsetting way. He told my Dad they got the sound of the incoming gunfire exactly right.

  30. 30
    Martin says:

    My grandmothers (mom’s side) cousin was at D-Day. It was his first deployment as a medic. He came home not that long after. Got shot at like crazy but never got hit, which he always felt guilty about. He helped patch up a ungodly number of guys that weren’t as lucky as he. Being his first taste of war, it just broke him emotionally. Not as bad as my grandfather (dad’s side) who did the pacific tour including a month on Iwo Jima, but he was never the same after, but at least could hold down a job most of the time. My grandfather spent most of his life after the war in the hospital due to PTSD. The war just wrecked him and he died just after I was born.

    My family left a lot of body parts in Europe and the Pacific. Both my dads parents served (grandma was a nurse on a troop ship and was wounded when it came under fire) and coming from large families each, they had 5 brothers between them also wounded to some degree or another. None died in the war, thankfully, but one was paralyzed.

    My mom’s dad built planes during the war. He tried to enlist in the air corps but his eyesight was too poor, so he did the next best thing. Overall, The war had a pretty lasting impact on the family.

    The kids of that generation, mostly living in NYC, grew up to be police and firemen mostly, and replayed the experience at 9/11. Again, no casualties, but there were quite a few family members there when the towers fell or there for the recovery. My dad’s cousin lost a lot of men from his company and is leading one of the efforts to get the government to support benefits for those that have incurred health effects from the recovery effort.

    As a group, we really suck at staying out of harms way.

  31. 31
    WereBear says:

    Thanks for the tip on “With the Old Breed” by Eugene Sledge.

    Grabbed it for my Kindle.

  32. 32
    SGEW says:

    . . . the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan really brought it back to him in an upsetting way. He told my Dad they got the sound of the incoming gunfire exactly right.

    I have often pondered the ethical dimensions of violence as art (or entertainment, viz. my deepest problems with Spielberg and other “blockbuster” directors). In this specific instance, my deep appreciation for the craft of cinematography and sound design (as I said, and as this anecdote shows, astoundingly good sound design in that scene) counterbalanced with the existential horror of combat and war.

    In fact, Saving Private Ryan was probably the film that finally turned me off from enjoying violence in movies, which was contemporaneous with the deepening of my pacifism (which culminated on a certain autumn morning in my town a few years later). Funny, that.

  33. 33

    All of these stories are moving but this is the one that got to me:

    Obama saluted the contributions of individual veterans of the Normandy landings, including one veteran, Jim Norene, who fought as a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

    “Last night, after visiting this cemetery for one last time, he passed away in his sleep,” the president said. “Jim was gravely ill when he left his home, and he knew that he might not return. But just as he did 65 years ago, he came anyway. May he now rest in peace with the boys he once bled with, and may his family always find solace in the heroism he showed here.”

    I’m glad he got to see his buddies one last time.

  34. 34
    Brachiator says:

    @JenJen:

    God Bless these Men.

    And women. And those who worked on the homefront in factories. And those who waited and hoped and lent support in whatever ways they could.

    NPR’s morning program had a nice little clip about remembrances in Normandy. They noted that the number of vets attending were far fewer this year, as more have sadly passed away. They also quoted a French villager who noted that people were asking where were the Americans as rumors about an invasion grew. They noted that they understood as soon as they saw the massive amount of equipment and vehicles being deployed, especially since in one particular village, there was only one automobile.

    Apparently, Ken Burns made “The War” because he wanted to get an oral history from those people who served in the armed forces and who were doing their part for the war effort on the home front.

    Digital media, compact cameras, YouTube, etc., offers an unprecedented opportunity to extend oral history projects. I wonder whether the government or universities or individual filmmakers are devoting any resources to this.

    And there are so many little niches that have not been adequately explored. I recall running across a book in the library (which I have been unable to find again because I did not note the title) about a small group of black women attached to the Army, working various jobs in England. There was tension as the official US policies of segregation sought to limit what these women could do, while the needs to get stuff done and the refusal of the British to always observe American rules sought to make sure that these women could do their jobs with dignity.

    I wondered what happened to these women after the war ended.

  35. 35
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    @JenJen:

    You know, I don’t remember where we stayed, I’ve been there a number of times, three I think. I remember staying near Cherbourg once and…. some other little place along the coast. My French friend does the navigation duties and she would know.

    She was pretty much as awestruck by the whole thing as I was, which is fairly typical from what I’ve seen.

  36. 36
    SGEW says:

    Political Animal put up the MSNBC video of Obama’s speech at Omaha.

    Link.

  37. 37
    Jager says:

    My Dad dropped the 101st into Normandy, he and his fellow pilots in ATC learned many lessons that day. When he got back to England he volunteered to fly gliders, because he wanted to get into combat so badly. After D Day they reorganized the glider force and trained the crews to operate as Infantry once they were on the ground. He flew the 2nd glider across the Rhine in Operation Varsity in the spring of ’45 and when they were all on the ground they got into a helluva of a fight and ended up holding a cross roads town by disabling a German Tiger tank in the middle of the street, effectively blocking a German counter attack. My old man was one helluva of guy! BTW, The “G” on the glider pilot’s wings stood for guts!

  38. 38
    REN says:

    @ WereBear

    As you read” With the Old Breed” you will find the hair on the back of your neck standing up. When you finish you will feel like weeping.

  39. 39
    patrick says:

    My father fought at Iwo Jima. He received a head wound at the landing and was knocked out cold for two hours. He woke up alone except for the bodies around him and had to search for the rest of his company. He was on Iwo Jima for eleven days and was part of the group that went to the top of Mount Suribachi. A second wound, this time from a mortar round that left him with shrapnel he carried around the rest of his life, got him off the island alive on the eleventh day.

    I have his book, “The Fifth Marine Division In the Pacific WWII”, which is kind of like a highschool yearbook, except for marines, here in my study. I was looking through it once years ago and Dad pointed out a picture of a scouting group of eleven men. He pointed to each young man and told me what had happened to him. Eight died from enemy action, two committed suicide, one lived.

    I met an older man at work once who recognized my name and wondered if I was related to a man who had might have served with his brother. I told him I would ask my dad. I asked my dad who told me, yes he had known this man’s brother (he said his name, which I am leaving out). And then he told me that they were friends and, during a break in the action, when sharing a light for a cigarette a japanese sniper shot his friend through the head. I just told the older man that my dad had known his brother.

    One night the japanese captured one of the marines and tortured him all night to entice the marines into a nightime attack. The marines resisted, but the next day loaded their .50 cals with explosive aircraft ammunition instead of the normal Geneva friendly steel shelled ammunition, and blew the opposing japanese away.

    He told me about clearing out caves with flamethrowers and watching burning men run out of the caves. He knew one guy who strapped two flamethrower tanks to his back, and with a flamethrower in each hand would go into any cave.

    War is horrible beyond belief and beyond hell. At least in hell you have some sense there are sinners that deserve their lot, not nineteen year old boys trying to be brave and honorable. We should know that when we send young people to fight on our behalf and in our names.

  40. 40
    Bill H says:

    My father was an USAAF medical officer and was on an LST on D-Day. I heard about it from him when I joined the Navy, but only that he had gone aboard before D-Day and gotten some really good food. He said he was on the contintinent as a medical officer, and was at the Battle of the Bulge but he never said a word about what he did. He claimed his Silver Star was “the officer’s good conduct medal.”

    I later heard, after he died, from some friends he served with that he was on the LST for the purpose of bringing wounded back from the landings and that he made three trips, but he never spoke about it. I read a citation that says he went into Bastogne in a glider while they were surrounded to provide medical care for the wounded. That wasn’t his Silver Star; I never learned what that was, and I don’t think I want to know, really. It doesn’t matter. He was my Dad. He was the guy I built model trains with.

  41. 41
    Jager says:

    Mrs Jager reminded me of a story my Mom told us. Mom met Dad in NY when he returned from Europe, he had 2 weeks leave before he had to report to the Army Air Corps base in Santa Ana to prepare for the invasion of Japan. She had her Dad’s ’41 Lincoln Continental Convertible and they drove across country. The hadn’t seen each in almost 2 years. She (with a sly smile) told us it was a wonderful trip!

    I was conceived either in the hotel room in NY or in the backseat of the Lincoln, because I was born 9 months and 15 seconds after he walked into her arms in NYC. I hope it was the Continental!

  42. 42
    Tsulagi says:

    the boys of Bedford, Virginia. Here is a post I wrote…

    Excellent post.

    @JenJen:

    He thought about it for a minute, put his arm around me, and finally said, “Well, why do you think we fought?”

    Exactly. Between both sides, have family resting at Arlington and Culpeper. I’d bet my house to a man they’d say essentially the same as that vet.

  43. 43

    After serving in the Army and thinking I was some kind of tough guy, I saw “Saving Private Ryan” and was reminded that I was no kind of tough. I don’t know if I could have faced what those guys faced that day.

    I was thinking of bravery, after reading what Bay Buchanan said about someone who she thinks is quite brave, http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=32155 and I think she needs to calibrate her bravery meter.

  44. 44
    dbrown says:

    Let us not forget the allies who fought with us – the British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, French underground and South Africans who fought at Normandy and also the most bloody, death filled, violent, terrible hell on Earth and take no prisoner (millions of Russian POW’s were even murdered by the Nazi’s) theater of war that made D-day possible (and winnable) – the Eastern front often fought hand-to-hand by the Russians (over twenty-million dead including millions of civilians). The Russians faced no less than 70% of the German Army during the war (and for part of it, the entire German Army) and often the best units.

  45. 45

    @JenJen

    He thought about it for a minute, put his arm around me, and finally said, “Well, why do you think we fought?”

    The first time I saw “Saving Private Ryan”, I was doing contract work for Microsoft and slipped out to see it in the middle of the day. I left the theater and sat in the car crying, sobbing. I couldn’t believe that the movie had that much of an effect on me. I note that someone has described the movie as treacly, all I can say about that is you need to recalibrate your sugar sensor.

    I had to go back to work at Microsoft and I asked myself what it was all about. Was World War II all about making the world safe for Microsoft? The bitter answer was ‘yes’. But if that was all World War II was about, then it was a price too dearly paid. Yes, World War II was about ensuring freedoms, among them, freedom to choose. But I also answered the question that ‘no, it was just to make the world safe for Microsoft’, that we needed to live each day to earn the lives that were bought for us so many years ago.

  46. 46
    JenJen says:

    @R-Jud: I am sincerely sorry I missed your post in the Memorial Day thread. Isn’t it thrilling finding news articles about your family during WWII? Thank you so much for posting that NYT story.

    Bataan Rescue Brings Joy To Ohio Families – Lima News

    The beloved brother of my grandmother, George Tarkanish of Youngstown, Ohio, rescued by MacArthur’s troops from the hell of Bataan.

    We just can’t imagine, can we? I hope other people in this thread will post what they know of the heroism of their own families; I, for one, will never tire of reading about those years. Thanks again, R-Jud!

    Edit: I will have you know, that awesome old man lived to be 91, and we all just loved the heck out of him, and his hilarious Y-Town accent, and accompanied him to many a VFW bar session, sipping bottles of Rolling Rock while watching him hold court. If you do nothing else this weekend, please hug your grandparents and their brothers and sisters for me. :-)

  47. 47
    Kirk Spencer says:

    @The Saff:

    My question is, do schools even teach much history any more?

    Yes and no.

    They teach history. It tends to be the same thing over and over, however – and often is simply “here are a bunch of dates and people and a label as to why they’re important.”

    Down here (North Georgia) one of the things that annoyed the crap out of me was that every year my daughter was in school till high school – and for a couple of those years (the US history years) the ‘history’ spent months and months on the US civil war. Typically without context or any particular framing, either. So I know that most of the young adults know many of the facts of the civil war, but for the rest …
    ’nuff. It’s too fine a day, and there are important things to remember.

  48. 48
    geg6 says:

    On this day 65 years ago, my Uncle Bud was in Normandy with the 101st, my Uncle Walter was on a Navy tanker in the Pacific, and my dad ferrying planes from the US to Britain for the AAC. Thankfully, they all made it back, but my grandmother was in danger of actually being Mrs. Ryan for real. I am humbled by them and all the other men and women who fought that good fight.

  49. 49
    R-Jud says:

    @JenJen:

    I, for one, will never tire of reading about those years.

    Me neither. I am lucky enough that my grandmother, who’s also a vet, is still around and has been willing to tell me anything I wanted to about those years. She was a nurse, didn’t get sent into combat herself, but remembers lots of things my Grandfather told her about his time as an interpreter for Italian POWs, and about what her own training and experience as a WAC was like. I have most of it on tape, in my dad’s house. Uncle Gino did most of his talking to Tom Brokaw.

    Also, Uncle Gino’s older sister, my Great-Aunt Emma, is still living. She came over to the US just before the Germans invaded Poland (my great-grandparents had to leave her behind when they fled Italy; they couldn’t afford her fare). In addition to what it was like on the home front, she remembers Italy under Mussolini, including people being executed in her village square by the Fascists.

    She also says that contrary to the popular perception, the trains did NOT run on time.

  50. 50
    patrick says:

    Everyone should watch “Saving Private Ryan” periodically, just to remind ourselves, as best we can without actually being there, of what we are asking of people when we send them to war.
    Also, William Manchester’s “Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War” is the best first hand account of the war in the Pacific that I have read. Another reminder that war is hell.

  51. 51
    John Cole says:

    In fact, Saving Private Ryan was probably the film that finally turned me off from enjoying violence in movies

    Yep. I was able to watch Band of Brothers, but I simply quit watching movies with violence. I can handle a murder here and there, and I can handle cartoon violence like the ridiculous Kill Bill nonsense, but I can not handle realistic violence and I simply can not handle any more war movies with lots of graphic violence (think Hamburger Hill).

    I really just don’t handle watching other people suffer very well. I don’t go to funerals, either. I have not been to one in two decades. I make my peace and say my goodbyes on my own.

  52. 52
    Johnny B. Guud says:

    Jack and Jill has a thread for the African American contribution to D-Day

  53. 53
    Maude says:

    I haven’t been able to watch violent movies for a long time. There seems to be a lot more sicko violence in novels. I can’t read them.
    No one mentioned Cornelius Ryan. He wrote The Longest Day.
    It is a very painful book to read. It was written from interviews, not a military history.
    Mr. Ryan died in 1976 of cancer. His last book was A bridge Too Far. The book before that was The Last Battle.

  54. 54
    LeaningTowardUndecided says:

    Dateline March 20, 2068:

    “Leaders of the Coalition Nations gather in Iraq to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the invasion.”

    I’ll be long dead, but it would be a good wager that the above headline will never happen.

  55. 55

    D-Day is one of those things that is so much bigger than we are, the scale of it is almost hard to get your arms around.

    It’s like Gettysburg, and Pearl Harbor, the Somme. Events that are just too big and too important to try to completely understand. One has to let the innumerable small stories contained inside them wash over himself and just experience the reactions we have in our own hearts and bodies as we contemplate what happened and what it meant.

    My family was pretty much all Pacific Theater in WWII. My father flew a PBY, and my grandfather and grandmother and mother and aunt were at Pearl Harbor. I heard the story of that day at their knees so many times growing up, I think it was the first really big story I ever learned. The tales of fighting men on beaches at Normandy, or Iwo Jima, or the stories of hearing the screams of men trapped in ships that had sunk or rolled over at Pearl Harbor … these stories just leave us speechless and shaken, and determined that such things should never happen again.

    And so that’s where I end up on a D-Day, or on a visit to Gettsyburg, or on December 7 ….. praying, as only a failed atheist can, that such things never happen again, to anybody, anywhere.

  56. 56
    JenJen says:

    @Brachiator: And women, to be certain. I adored listening to my grandmother’s stories of working at US Steel during the war. Her eyes would just light up, no matter her age. She was so very proud of what she did, and she talked about it, where the men, you know, just wouldn’t.

    To me, it is the most earth-shaking moment in American history. Everything changed after the Depression and the War.

    Everything.

  57. 57
    REN says:

    @ Maude

    I ‘ve read Cornelius Ryan and agree with you. His interview style and his discoveries of little known and interelated facts is masterful. A truly wonderful historian. Stephen Ambrose, one of whose books “Band of Brothers” is based on ,writes in a very similar fashion.

  58. 58

    @The Saff

    My question is, do schools even teach much history any more? It seems that with standardizing testing, schools mostly teach math and English. Apologies for my ignorance because I don’t have kids (well, I have the feline kind).

    I don’t know, but I do know that when I went to junior high and high school back in the late 1970s and early 80s history was a dry, desiccated affair. We had textbooks that sucked all of the life, context and meaning out of history and made studying it like reading a dry, boring and incredibly badly written novel. I liked reading history at home and hated studying it at school and it wasn’t until years later I realized how artificial and lifeless the study of history was in K-12.

    Every time I read about D-Day I’m amazed at what a close thing it was. So many things could have gone wrong, the Germans could have found out, ala Ken Follett’s excellent Eye of the Needle that the whole First United States Army Group was a diversion created to make the Germans believe that the landings would come at Pas de Calais. The Germans could have gotten their shit together and repulsed the landings off of the beaches or the Allied forces could have ended up being contained in a pocket on the French coast and having it turn into another Anzio.

    There was a huge amount of luck involved in D-Day, but as the saying goes “fortune favors the bold” and none of the planning and preparation for D-Day, tactical, strategic or logistical, relied upon any element of luck, only meticulous skill, damned nearly flawless execution and the ability to quickly regroup and reorganize and continue moving forward as elements of the plan failed. Luck had nothing to do with any of that, it came as the result of years of planning, training and hard work on the part of the soldiers who hit the beaches, the sailors who got them there and the airmen who kept the Luftwaffe off their backs. But even then it was such a close thing and realizing that only increases the heroism of those involved.

    One of the best books I’ve ever read about World War II is Paul Fussell’s excellent Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War . Fussell, who served as an infantry lieutenant in Europe during World War II does not glorify the war, or the military, nor does he romanticize warfare. Wartime serves as a stiff and bracing antidote to a lot of the “Good War” hagiography out there. At the end of the book Fussell writes this about Eisenhower and D-Day.

    One wartime moment not at all vile occurred in June 5, 1944 when Dwight Eisenhower, alone with himself, for the moment disjunct from his publicity apparatus, changed the passive voice to the active in the penciled statement he wrote out to have ready when the invasion was repulsed, his troops torn apart for nothing, his planes ripped and smashed to no end, his warships sunk, his reputation blasted.

    Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.

    Originally he wrote the troops have been withdrawn, as if by some distant, anonymous agency instead of by an identifiable man making all-but impossible decisions. Having ventured this bold revision, and secure now in his painful acceptance of personal accountability, he is able to proceed unevasively with My decision

    My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available.

    Then, after the conventional “credit”, distributed equally to “the troops, the air and the navy” Eisenhower’s noble aceptance of total personal responsibility.

    If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone

    As Mailer says you use the word shit so you can use the word noble and you refuse to ignore the stupidity and barbarism and poltroonery and filth of the real war so that it is mine alone can flash out, a bright signal in a dark time.

  59. 59

    Another incredible book that describes what it was like in Europe is Brendan Phibbs Our War for the World: A Memoir of Life and Death on the Front Lines in WW II, which was originally published as The Other Side of Time. Phibbs was a combat surgeon with the 12th armored division and was one of the first Americans to enter Dachau. It’s a brutal book, Phibbs doesn’t pull punches when he calls out the incompetence of Army brass who got soldiers killed while sitting behind the front lines, including officers in his own unit. His account of how a battalion of Sherman tanks commanded by a friend of his gets slaughtered because an incompetent superior officer ordered a direct, head on attack against a fortified German position is painful to read.

  60. 60
    GP says:

    How come we never celebrate any of the battles of the Viet Nam war? Some of my best friends fought there.and these guys are some GREAT MEN…

  61. 61
    REN says:

    @ GP

    Read ” We Were Soldiers Once-And Young” by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway. All soldiers are heroes.

  62. 62
    JenJen says:

    @Jager: Best meet-cute war story ever! FTW.

    @dan robinson: Spare me, Bay Buchanan. I mean, really.

  63. 63
    JenJen says:

    @dan robinson:

    But I also answered the question that ‘no, it was just to make the world safe for Microsoft’, that we needed to live each day to earn the lives that were bought for us so many years ago.

    And isn’t that it? Isn’t that today’s lesson, or, rather, the lesson of every new day?

    They did indeed pay for our freedom with their lives and their consciences. They cannot be praised and honored enough, if you ask me.

  64. 64
    AhabTRuler says:

    I left the theater and sat in the car crying, sobbing.

    Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction, although I saw it at home. I was actually fine for the 5-10 mins. it took me to get in the car and head to the store. However, about a half mile down the road I fell to pieces.

    OTOH, my professor, who has spoken to a great number of WWI and II vets (he himself did not serve in Vietnam, although he didn’t dodge, he just took a (IIRC, 9 months at Leavenworth) prison sentence for refusing), has said that one complaint offered against the so-called ‘reality’ of SPR is that the movie lacks the smell that accompanies death and the battlefield.

    For people that are interested, I can recommend Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, which is ostensibly about WWI, but is in many ways the literary autobiography inspired by Fussell’s WWII experience. For a broader examination of the way history treats war and combat, I recommend John Keegan’s The Face of Battle, which has nothing to do with WWII, but indirectly addresses the reasons why SPR is so striking as a work of military ‘history’.

    Don’t read On War, as even the people who are paid to know what its about often don’t know or can’t agree on what’s it about (if you must, read the Paret/Howard edition).

  65. 65
    techno says:

    Folks. It has been 65 years. Don’t you think it’s time to start actually telling the real story of the invasion of Normandy? Watching Obama retell the Cold War distortions one more time was actually embarrassing.

    Fact: The Wehrmacht was destroyed by the Red Army in places like Stalingrad and Kursk. By 1944, the elite German troops had long ago been killed or captured. The “defenders” of Normandy were at best, fourth-rate. If Normandy had been defended by Von Paulus’s armies, …

    Fact: Our Soviet allies were furious that it took so long to mount an invasion of France and when it finally came, were openly contemptuous of our “botched” operation. Actually, they were mostly just jealous–while USSR lost more than 20 million citizens in the Great Patriotic War, USA lost less than 400,000. The Red Army lost more folks than that liberating Budapest–a battle most history buffs know nothing about.

    Fact: The Germans were only able to muster one serious counter-attack in the west (The Battle of the Bulge). They spent the rest of the time retreating so fast Patton actually ran out of gasoline trying to pursue them.

    This nation will never solve its big problems until it starts telling the truth to itself and its children. And a good place to start would be telling the truth about World War II.

  66. 66
    AhabTRuler says:

    @techno: What “truth”? While most, if not all, of what you say has some truth to it, by categorizing it as a “truth” that is being denied, you engage in the same sin you accuse others of.

    The truth is that the history, military, social, and economic, of WWII is exceedingly complex and defies simplification. Much work remains to be done in the field, and the firmer the conclusion you draw from present knowledge, the shakier your conclusion is.

    The Soviets were upset with US tactics, and Stalin was entirely willing the non-productive members of the civilian population (old, young, and sick), which, along with land, was the resource. Furthermore, the common historical understanding of the Wehrmacht and Germany in WWII tends to be obscured by time and propaganda from both sides.

    People have different levels of historical understanding (necessarily so), and furthermore, memorials are about remembering people, not facts, and, indeed, often get the facts entirely wrong.

    I recommend Bartov’s Hitler’s Army, Mark Harrison’s Accounting for War, Eugenia Kiesling’s Arming Against Hitler (especially before you utter the phrase “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”), and David French’s Raising Churchill’s Army. I will note, however, that I do not claim to be an expert in the subject by a long margin, and the primary research I have conducted on WWII is centered on the Pacific theater (the Japanese homeland, specifically). However, the above books are good ones, make of that what you will.

  67. 67
    Thlayli says:

    No one mentioned Cornelius Ryan. He wrote The Longest Day.

    I just finished my annual screening of the movie.

  68. 68
    JenJen says:

    @techno: Hey, are you the guy who called in to C-SPAN this morning with these comments? They were well-handled by the historian on board.

    If the war was already won at Barbarossa, well, then…? Why wasn’t it over, you know?

    I really don’t believe that honoring the veterans of the Normandy Invasion somehow detracts from the valor along the Eastern Front. The end of the war was surely hastened by the D-Day invasion. And for that we should all give thanks.

  69. 69
  70. 70
    AhabTRuler says:

    @AhabTRuler: Shorter me: If you’re not going to have a holistic view of the history of war, why bother?

  71. 71
    Mike in NC says:

    If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone

    Of all the important and historic items on display in the National Archives, Ike’s humble notebook is one of the most moving. He was a genuine leader.

  72. 72
    John Cole says:

    @REN: One of my very first posts on this blog from 2002.

  73. 73
    georgia pig says:

    @REN: The thing that makes The Old Breed unique is its dispassionate tone, no sentimentality whatsoever. My dad was in the relief wave at Peliliu, I still remember him talking about seeing the bodies bobbing in the surf when the landing craft reached the beach. Peliliu was a real tragedy. I appreciate what US troops went through in Europe, but the Pacific war was very brutal and has never got the attention that Europe has. My dad entered the Marines in 1939, first saw action in the Aleutians when Midway was attacked, was in five battle campaigns and didn’t come home until 1945. He got malaria in New Guinea, weighed 122 pounds (he was six feet tall) when he came home.

  74. 74
    bob h says:

    Liberals are not supposed to like weapons, but we probably should be grateful in principle that we have cluster bombs, Predators, satellite surveilance, cruise missiles, all of which ensure that none of us will ever have to go thru something like D-Day again.

  75. 75
    Josh Hueco says:

    @GP:

    Because WWII was the last ‘good war’ we fought. The nation was united and we saw ourselves unequivocally as the good guys.

  76. 76
    Notorious P.A.T. says:

    How come we never celebrate any of the battles of the Viet Nam war? Some of my best friends fought there.and these guys are some GREAT MEN…

    No doubt about it. Some of the most decorated soldiers in US history served in Nam.

  77. 77
    Notorious P.A.T. says:

    Liberals are not supposed to like weapons

    We believe in building weapons so we don’t have to use them. Neocons believe in building weapons because they can’t wait to blow someone up to get revenge for that kid in junior high who knocked them down and took their milk money.

  78. 78
    Notorious P.A.T. says:

    Yeah, you can say “what would Europe look like without the Red Army?” but you should also say “what would Russia do if Rommel were fighting them instead of the Allies in Africa”? or what would Russia do if America weren’t grinding down Japan in the Pacific?

  79. 79
    Roger Moore says:

    @Notorious P.A.T.:

    Or “what would Russia have looked like without American sailors dying to deliver Lend/Lease shipments?” Not to mention all the troops who were kept away from the Eastern front by the need to defend against a potential invasion of France and the very real need to defend Germany against Allied bombing. And a really nasty person might ask whether the Red Army might have been better off if it had helped Poland fight the Germans instead of helping to finish it off.

  80. 80
    Brachiator says:

    @JenJen:

    And women, to be certain. I adored listening to my grandmother’s stories of working at US Steel during the war. Her eyes would just light up, no matter her age. She was so very proud of what she did, and she talked about it, where the men, you know, just wouldn’t.

    And of course there were the smaller group of women who made up the The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.

    I guess it is somewhat understandable that more is not known about these women. Along with sexism and a lack of general knowledge about history, the Wiki notes this little nugget: “All records of the WASP were classified and sealed for 35 years, so their contributions to the war effort were little known and inaccessible to historians for many years.”

    Still, a while back the PBS program American Experience featured a very good documentary about these women, called Fly Girls.

  81. 81
    HRA says:

    Whew! The real story of Normandy is out there. Sorry, I can’t provide any title for you. It’s been a long time since I read the accounts from the survivors and even some from the generals and their staffs.

    I just finished watching President Obama on the C-Span video provided by someone here. I know the sound was a bit off and yet, I can’t believe I somehow missed his reference to the Cold War. Thanks to the person who gave the link here.

    Weren’t the Germans frozen out at the attempt to get into Russia (i.e. not equipped for the cold weather) and failed?

    Also maybe a subject search at the library would reveal the book about the Black women in London during WWII. I would start out using African American women – World War II. A search on the internet may be a good idea, too.

  82. 82
    Yutsano says:

    This whole thread is going to make me cry for two reasons:

    1) My grandmother passed away in January. Her experience in WWII was working on cracking the Enigma code in Salt Lake City. My grandfather participated in the Battle of the Bulge (he’s still alive). They both spoke proudly of their contributions although my grandfather still won’t discuss what exactly he went through in Belgium. It just makes me think of her especially since I had a dream about her last night.

    2) I have a very close friend who works in military intelligence who has “gone dark” for a couple of months now. I keep hoping he’ll just pop up out of nowhere and everything will be okay but the longer it goes on the longer my old mother hen instinct goes batshit crazy. I am doing my best to think positive but I’m just flipping worried.

    Okay, that was my stream of consciousness. You can go back to your regular juicing.

  83. 83
    Brachiator says:

    @HRA:

    Weren’t the Germans frozen out at the attempt to get into Russia (i.e. not equipped for the cold weather) and failed?

    The Germans failed to learn an important lesson from history. Napoleon also famously failed to take his opponents and the weather into account when he tried to invade Russia.

    By the way, one of the most elegant graphs ever details Napoleon’s failure. Background here.

    The graph can be found here (C. J. Minard’s Map of Napoleon’s March of 1812).

  84. 84

    Took the time today to write a post on my dad who walked the beaches of Normandy 65 years ago. Right after, I sat down and watched Saving Private Ryan as I do every June 6. I need to remind myself of some what my dad went through on that saddest of days so many years ago.

  85. 85
    Ruckus says:

    @John Cole:
    This may be the wrong place for this – I”ll apologize now if so.
    Spent a couple of months in navy hospital in ’73. Best buddy there was a marine sargent who told me stories of combat. When I saw the movie hamburger hill the action brought back many very hard to live with moments. He was there. His descriptions were real. The effect was extremely chilling. A few people I have known gave descriptions that sound just like my friend the marine. Private Ryan is as real as movies get and it brings out the same feelings. To this day I have a very hard time watching war movies. The stories become too real for me, even if I have only seen/heard things second hand. Didn’t have to fire a gun in anger or be shot at myself but the friends I’ve known who have had to are scarred for life, some a little, some a lot. Met Paul Tibbits after a talk he gave and I saw the same hard/sad look in his eyes that every other combat vet I’ve known has had.
    No matter how just or unjust a war is, it is at least hell, probably even much worse than that and we should never forget.
    Or the people who had to go through it.

  86. 86
    Yutsano says:

    This may be the wrong place for this – I’‘ll apologize now if so.

    I can’t speak for John, but it seems pretty darn perfect to me.

  87. 87
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    @John Cole:

    If you liked Moore’s book, you might like some of the Vietnam histories written by Keith Nolan. In fact, Moore reviewed and recommended his book about the battle for Firebase Ripcord.

    Sadly, Nolan passed away earlier this year…much too young.

  88. 88
    REN says:

    @ John Cole

    Galloway has a way with words. And Hal Moore was and is a man of his word. Great post John,wish I’d have read it way back then. Joe Galloway still writes editorials for McClatchy,wonderful ones at that. His is a uniquely soldier oriented opinion and he really laid it on Bush and the neo-cons. Not to mention Dick the dodger.

  89. 89
    REN says:

    @ georgia pig

    You’re right about the ferocity of the pacific war. The Japanese did not surrender and the Marines quickly learned not to. Islands held by thousands of Japanese troops would have handfuls of survivors. Eugene Sledges dispassion was always with him after his experiences. He talked about the untreated PTSD that so many WW2 combat veterans suffered from,including himself.

    The Marines went through many landings in the pacific that compare with Omaha beach. Some individuals did it many times. Can you imagine being asked to do that again,now being acutely aware of what is to come?

  90. 90
    tavella says:

    @Martin: My grandfather spent most of his life after the war in the hospital due to PTSD. The war just wrecked him and he died just after I was born.

    That’s a part that seldom gets told; we get told about Vietnam vets with PTSD, but the number of WWII vets that came home with PTSD gets overlooked.

    I was lucky enough to talk with my uncle this summer about his D-Day experience (he seldom talks about it, but for some reason at a family reunion dinner he was willing to talk a little.) So I got some things clarified — he didn’t drop in the morning of D-Day. He dropped in the night before, as part of a Pathfinder team. It’s unimaginable to me; dropping in in the dark, into a countryside filled with soldiers (he said nothing more when I asked than “there were some Germans, and then they weren’t.”)

    But it was a table full of children, so I didn’t ask about the other family stories — that, repurposed as mostly ground troops, they slogged across Europe, including a concentration camp. Where he was so enraged by what he saw that he shot a German officer, and not long after was sent back to Paris with shellshock. Which he didn’t recover from for years after the war.

  91. 91
    DZ says:

    very nice thread people. My father flew hundreds of supply missions in C-47s in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. He was overseas from November, 1942 until July, 1945. He never, ever talked about the war. When he died in 1998, he left me his wartime journals. what soldiers went through was mind-boggling.

    That said, WWII was the last time that American soldiers fought in the defense of the U.S. Korea was arguably a legitimate war. The current Afghanistan war might be a legitimate war. Nothing else was. All were wars of aggression or wars of choice where the security of the U.S. was not threatened.

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