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A PROPER D-Day 80th anniversary commemoration

Leave it to Steyn to provide one, from the Canadian perspective.

A lot went wrong, but more went right – or was made right. A few hours before the Canadians aboard the Prince Henry climbed into that landing craft, 181 men in six Horsa gliders took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton in Dorset to take two bridges over the River Orne and hold them until reinforcements arrived. Their job was to prevent the Germans using the bridges to attack troops landing on Sword Beach. At lunchtime, Lord Lovat and his commandos arrived at the Bénouville Bridge, much to the relief of the 7th Parachute Battalion’s commanding officer, Major Pine-Coffin. That was his real name, and an amusing one back in Blighty: simple pine coffins are what soldiers get buried in. It wasn’t quite so funny in Normandy, where a lot of pine coffins would be needed by the end of the day. Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Fraser, apologized to Pine-Coffin for missing the rendezvous time: “Sorry, I’m a few minutes late,” he said, after a bloody firefight to take Sword Beach.

Lovat had asked his personal piper, Bill Millin, to pipe his men ashore. Private Millin pointed out that this would be in breach of War Office regulations. “That’s the English War Office, Bill,” said Lovat. “We’re Scotsmen.” And so Millin strolled up and down the sand amid the gunfire playing “Hieland Laddie” and “The Road to the Isles” and other highland favorites. The Germans are not big bagpipe fans and I doubt it added to their enjoyment of the day.

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 ninety-eight 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: some say the first liberated building was L’Etrille et les Goélands (the Crab and the Gulls), subsequently renamed – in honour of the men who took it that morning – the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada house. But no matter: the stylish pop of champagne corks at the Café Gondrée was 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…

That’s the late Bill Bray and the late John Woodthorpe with Mme Gondrée (pictured at the link—M) on the seventieth anniversary. 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 eight decades 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. Ten 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, unlike the deserter and traitor honoured by Obama, they weren’t “kids”, they were men.

Gott damn skippy they were, whatever their chronological age may have been—real men, of a stripe they just ain’t making any more of, to our enormous cost. How many times have I said it over lo, these many years: if we’d had to rely on today’s twee, pampered Manwomen to storm the Normandy beaches back in 1944, we’d all be singing Deutschland Über Alles as our national anthem—in the original Churman, natch.

Update! Say, did someone mention “real men” just now? Why yes, I do believe someone did at that.

D-Day: When Real Men Held The Moral High Ground
One of the most popular books in the 1980s was the satire “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” It was a tongue-in-cheek homage to what even then was a perceived fading masculinity starting to infect our broader society.

One of the chapters listed “Historic dates in Real Man history.” Of June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day, it states: “150,000 Real Men storm Normandy beach.” In a way, I could end this piece right there, as I cannot offer a more fitting tribute to what occurred on those hallowed beaches 80 years ago today. But I will try. Because as the years pass, and the Greatest Generation fades to the point where soon they will be gone, this monumental event in the annals of war offers us both a remembrance of what was, and reflection of what we as a nation have become.

Sadly, one cannot help but think the goodwill and moral capital we so justifiably earned on this day of days and many others throughout that awful calamity that was the Second World War has been squandered, one ill-fated, ill-conceived act of military adventurism at a time. One can say that the advent of the American Empire could be traced to the sands of Normandy. And, as with all empires, we are destined to fall. We are, in fact, seeing the classic signs of decline today. Among them are the over-expansion of a nation’s military far beyond its own borders; we currently have nearly 800 bases in over 70 countries. Another is an insurmountable national debt; debt service is now eclipsing military spending. Another still is decadence at home; I’ll let you ponder this while the next “Drag Queen Story Hour” comes to your schools.

One must wonder, then, if any of the remaining D-Day veterans might take the measure of the country they were once willing to die for and find today’s America worth storming another Normandy Beach to preserve. I wonder.

What we do know, however, with absolute certainty is that a lot of real men did do incredible things on this day 80 years ago. They did it not for conquest, treasure, or vendetta, but rather to liberate a people they never knew, in countries they’d only heard about, from an oppressive force so evil it had to be destroyed. They met the challenge. And so we salute them all.

We do indeed, humbly and with utmost gratitude. Doughty men, valiant men, intrepid men, ordinary men—pride of the American heartland; scions of Flatbush Avenue, South Street, Orange County, Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill, Cleveland’s Broadway Avenue; from every sleepy hamlet’s Main Street, every jostling, jiving metropolis’s main stem, American men signed up for they knew not what, were transported they knew not where, and stood up manfully under a waking nightmare which no one who wasn’t there with them on that day of testing and abject horror can ever hope to comprehend.

Now most of those men have left us, one by one by one: their challenge accepted and met, their task completed, their mission nobly accomplished, their sacrifice redeemed. God forbid that I ever hear any shitlib utter the vapid, obnoxious phrase “toxic masculinity” in reference to the heroic men Reagan immortalized as “the boys of Pointe Du Hoc.” Should such an unforgivable indecency transpire in my presence, I refuse to be held liable for whatever I might say and/or do in response.

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