I kinda let the D-Day and Midway anniversaries slip by me this week, but as usual Aesop has me covered with a statement that’s short, sweet, and to the point.
Over 300,000 troops from 8 countries fought at Normandy for the Allies, 75 years ago today.
Actuarially, there are but a handful of them still alive.
The youngest would be 92, and the average age would be 101.
In a few years, they’ll all be dead.
Every one of them are national treasures.
The comments sport several great war stories told by the descendents of D-Day vets. Elsewhere, another good ‘un.
The dive bomber squadron from the Hornet never found the Japanese fleet. And the squadrons from the Enterprise might not have except for the initiative and decision making of another junior officer.
Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky had been searching for the Japanese fleet in the area where, according to his briefing, it should have been. But when he looked down from some 20,000 feet, the only thing he saw was empty ocean. He conducted a search, according to doctrine, and succeed only in burning more fuel. To the point where it would soon be either a) head back to the Enterprise or b) ditch.
A lot depended on what one fairly junior naval aviator decided to do with the time and fuel he had left. Wade McClusky had to make a decision. What course would take him to the Japanese fleet? It was all on him.
He made a call and you could say he played a hunch. An informed hunch but still, if it had come up wrong …
He had seen a spotted a single Japanese ship on the wide surface of the Pacific. It was a destroyer and judging by the distinct white wake, it was making speed.
To where and for what? McCluskey thought.
To wherever the Japanese fleet was, in order to rejoin it, he reasoned.
Using the V of the ship’s wake as though it were the point of a compass needle, McCluskey changed course. A few minutes later he and the dive bombers he led were in the wide, unguarded skies over the Japanese fleet.
The dive bomber squadron from the Yorktown arrived at almost exactly this time. The Americans attacked and the Japanese lost three fleet carriers and the initiative in the Pacific in a span of five minutes. There is nothing else like it in the history of warfare.
In the next hours of the battle, the remaining Japanese carrier was sunk as was the Yorktown.
Admiral Raymond Spruance handled his fleet both boldly and steadily. He was aggressive when he needed to be and prudent when he had to be. The workers in the yard who had made it possible for the Yorktown to take part in the fight played a big role in the victory. As, certainly, did the code breakers. And then, there were those bold decisions, made in the moment, by Waldron and McClusky, recalling the way that Chamberlain saved the situation at Little Round Top.
America seems to find people like them when they are most desperately needed.
And, one thinks, it isn’t by accident.
Nope. By the grace of God, if you ask me. Next, a lovely D Day remembrance from Steyn that also sounds a heartbreakingly sobering note.
The building on the other side of the Bénouville Bridge was a café and the home of Georges Gondrée and his family. Thérèse Gondrée had spent her childhood in Alsace and thus understood German. So she eavesdropped on her occupiers, and discovered that in the machine-gun pillbox was hidden the trigger for the explosives the Germans intended to detonate in the event of an Allied invasion. She notified the French Resistance, and thanks to her, after landing in the early hours of June 6th, Major Howard knew exactly where to go and what to keep an eye on.
Shortly after dawn there was a knock on Georges Gondrée’s door. He answered it to find two paratroopers who wanted to know if there were any Germans in the house. The men came in, and Thérèse embraced them so fulsomely that her face wound up covered in camouflage black, which she proudly wore for days afterward. Georges went out to the garden and dug up 98 bottles of champagne he’d buried before the Germans arrived four years earlier. And so the Gondrée home became the first place in France to be liberated from German occupation. There are always disputes about these things, of course: the French historian Norbert Hugedé says the first liberated building was in fact the house of M Picot. But no matter: the pop of champagne corks at the Café Gondrée were the bells tolling for the Führer’s thousand-year Reich.
Arlette Gondrée was a four-year old girl that day, and she has grown old with the teen-and-twenty soldiers who liberated her home and her town. But she is now the proprietress of the family café, and she has been there every June to greet those who return each year in dwindling numbers.
The Bénouville Bridge was known to Allied planners as the Pegasus Bridge, after the winged horse on the shoulder badge of British paratroopers. But since 1944 it has been called the Pegasus Bridge in France, too. And in the three-quarters of a century since June 6th, no D-Day veteran has ever had to pay for his drink at the Café Gondrée.
They were young, but they were not children. Five years ago, I listened to President Obama explain from Brussels that the deserter he brought home from the Taliban in the days before the D-Day anniversary was just a “kid”. In fact, he was 28 years old. I remember walking through the Canadian graves at Bény-sur-Mer a few years ago. Over two thousand headstones, but only a handful of ages inscribed upon them: 22 years old, 21, 20…But they weren’t “kids”, they were men.
Somehow, in our complacency we latter-day Americans have failed to honor the legacy of those men. But we have in no way besmirched the Boys of Point Du Hoc by our lapse; thankfully, that just isn’t within the ken of hollow, despicable worms like Obama. Nor is it within ours.
Update! Gerard takes you there.
Today your job is straightforward. First you must load 40 to 50 pounds on your back. Then you need to climb down a net of rope that is banging on the steel side of a ship and jump into a steel rectangle bobbing on the surface of the ocean below you. Others are already inside the steel boat shouting and urging you to hurry up.
Once in the boat you stand with dozens of others as the boat is driven towards distant beaches and cliffs through a hot hailstorm of bullets and explosions. Boats moving nearby are, from time to time, hit with a high explosive shell and disintegrate in a red rain of bullets and body parts. Then there’s the smell of men near you fouling themselves as the fear bites into their necks and they hunch lower into the boat. That smell mingles with the smell of cordite and seaweed.
In front of you, over the steel helmets of other men, you can see the flat surface of the bow’s landing ramp still held in place against the sea. Soon you are within range of the machine guns that line the cliffs above the beach ahead. The metallic death sound of their bullets clangs and whines off the front of the ramp.
Then the coxswain shouts and the klaxon sounds. Then you feel the keel of the LVCP grind against the rocks and sand of Normandy as the large shells from the boats in the armada behind you whuffle and moan overhead. Then the explosions all around increase in intensity and then the bullets from the machine guns in the cliffs ahead and above rattle and hum along the steel plates of the boat and the men crouch lower. Then somehow all lean forward as, at last, the ramp drops down and you see the beach. Then the men surge forward and you step with them. Then you are out in the chill waters of the channel wading in towards sand already doused with death, past bodies bobbing in the surf staining the waters crimson. Then you are on the beach.
It’s worse on the beach.
You’ll want to read all of this one too; read, and marvel in awe at what these ordinary everyday American boys endured, and achieved.