Tuesday, May 28, 2019

In Advance of D-Day

We spent yesterday rediscovering D-Day in Normandy a week ahead of the 75th anniversary celebrations. The sheer audacity of the operation comes clearer from the vista of Utah Beach, our first stop on the visit and the most successful aspect of the U.S. attack on June 6, 1944.

The many memorials and stories reminded me of Gettysburg, the pivotal battle in an earlier war. So many individuals contributed to the success of the assault, and everyone, in those wonderful pre-social media days, kept their mouths closed long enough for the surprise critical to the amphibious surge's working. 

It also is stirring to visit St. Mere Eglise, the nearby village which still reveres the two American airborne divisions that freed the place from the Germans. The amazing story of the paratrooper who got caught on the church spire is still commemorated by a figure and parachute cloth atop the steeple. 

These were the days when we all pulled together: "the last good war" as it was often labelled. Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who died a few days after the landing of a heart attack, was the only general to actually lead his unit from the landing craft onto the beach and onward. He had despised and opposed FDR, who returned the dislike, largely because TR Jr. apparently felt that as Teddy's oldest son, he deserved to be the family's favorite. Interestingly, Teddy had gotten on warmly with FDR, as both admired each other's abilities. But TR Jr. went out a hero and did the right thing: when his unit's landing craft landed 1.5 km away from the target site, he immediately adapted the plans and helped ensure the success at Utah.

You can feel the anticipation of next week's celebration, minus the crowds and the road closures and all the security for the big names who will be here then. The memorials enable you to remember that this battle hinged on everyone doing his part. The man from Nebraska who designed the landing craft in New Orleans and managed to convince the Navy to buy it made a bundle and later lost it all--he's remembered on a memorial, as are the engineers who lost their lives clearing the way for the troops through mined waters.

Somehow the U.S., Britain, and Canada managed to function as a team to pull this off. Montgomery and Patton, inevitably at loggerheads later, both contributed, as did so many others, from generals to privates. Roosevelt chose well with Eisenhower, who kept this alliance together and even managed to handle Churchill, who saw himself as a grand strategist.

In our current world, the experience of seeing where D-Day happened is invigorating. Things can go right and governments can work together and accomplish great things when their leaders are capable, as they were then. Some day we may see their like again.

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