Tuesday, June 5, 2012

D-Day: 68th Anniversary

by Colonel Paul Herbert, Executive Director of the First Division Museum

This is the 68th anniversary of "D-Day," the Allied landings in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. On D-Day, more than 5,000 ships placed 130,000 Allied soldiers on a hostile shore. From Normandy, Allied forces liberated Europe and ensured that Nazi Germany could not concentrate against the Soviet Union, thus forcing Germany’s unconditional surrender.

The heaviest fighting occurred on Omaha Beach where the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division led the assault. There, strong German defenses placed the invasion in danger. Iron-willed soldiers and sailors of all ranks met the crisis. US Navy destroyers placed 5-inch direct fire on targets ashore. Colonel George Taylor urged his men that only the dead would stay on the beach as he led them to the bluffs above. Sergeant John Pinder repeatedly left safety to search for radio parts on the deadly beach where he was killed. General Willard Wyman calmly walked under heavy fire giving direction to soldiers. Private Carleton Barrett rescued many wounded comrades from the surf. Lieutenant John Spaulding led his men through a crease in the German defenses to the top. Lieutenant Jimmie Montieth commandeered two tanks and directed their fire in support of his platoon that likewise scaled the bluffs. These and many others bought victory at a cost of some 10,000 Allied casualties, including more than 4,000 dead.

The Battle for Normandy allowed the Western Allies to meet the Soviets on the Elbe River and not the Rhine, thus allowing a democratic West Germany to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and setting the stage for victory in the Cold War. These benefits to generations of Americans and Europeans are the legacy of D-Day. Normandy stands as a testament to Allied partnership and to the valor of countless Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen. Lest we forget.

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