D-Day Seventy Years Later

Omaha Beach at Normandy after the initial landings

Omaha Beach at Normandy after the initial landings

By the Editors

On June 6, 1944, seventy years ago today, allied forces attacked the Germans at Normandy in France in an immense cross-channel invasion.  Omaha Beach was an especially nasty kill zone for American troops, as re-created in Steven Spielberg’s film, “Saving Private Ryan.”  After that long and deadly first day, an allied beachhead in France was firmly established.  Less than one year later, and after much hard fighting, Nazi Germany surrendered.

In World War II, terror came from the German Wehrmacht in the shape of Panzers, Stukas, and fanatical troops inspired by extreme nationalism and virulent racism.  It was truly a war of terror; today’s so-called war on terror pales by comparison.

One of us is a World War II veteran; the other, a veteran of more recent vintage.  We believe World War II was a necessary war, one that was truly fought to preserve liberty.  Troops of all countries paid an enormous price to stop the war machines of fascist Germany and Italy and that of Imperial Japan.

As one of us, an Army Air Corps veteran, read an article on D-Day in The Independent newspaper in Britain, we thought about the ways politicians in the U.S., most of whom have never served in the armed forces, exploit anniversaries like this one to rationalize the perpetual state of war the U.S. finds itself in today.  To this World War II veteran, such exploitation constitutes a desecration of the sacrifices we and our allies made on D-Day and the subsequent defeat of the murderous threat posed by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to the peoples of the world.

On this D-Day anniversary, let us remember the troops who sacrificed in World War II for our liberties.  But let us not desecrate their sacrifice by linking it in any way to the misguided wars of choice that America continues to wage today.  And let us as well be aware that today’s wars are not advancing democracy overseas, but rather they are degrading its underpinnings here in the United States.

7 thoughts on “D-Day Seventy Years Later

  1. Bravo, gents! Though we can all agree the USA fought on the side of the good guys in that immense conflict, I’m sure a large percentage of the military was conscripted. In the Vietnam Era, where I gained my military experience, conscripts certainly constituted the majority of the troops. Today’s military is very different, being essentially a mercenary organization. However, let us please keep an open mind to the concept that perhaps the occasional soldier still sees a problem with the policy and actual on-the-ground practice of the US military and may feel compelled, on moral/ethical/religious grounds, to “lay down arms.” Of course I refer to Bowe Bergdahl, who has already been tried and convicted by foaming-at-the-mouth rightwing pols and their media mouthpieces. “Deserter!” “Traitor!!” These are the “charges,” and this veteran finds the whole situation disturbing and revolting. Meanwhile, every night the local TV newscast features the latest “hero” back from having served in these latest wars of choice. The very word “hero” has now been diluted and cheapened to the point of meaninglessness. Want to do something heroic, America? How about stirring up the gumption to hold “your” government accountable for its misuse of your tax dollars to fund an endless “War Against Terror” which is whittling away at your civil liberties here at home while murdering civilians in faraway lands, generating potential new enemies? The chickens have only just begun to “come home to roost.” Please try to convince me that the glorification and “justification” of extreme violence has nothing whatsoever to do with unbalanced individuals going on murder sprees here at home. If you can, perhaps I’ll become a member of the NRA!

  2. Greg.. Sixteen million were in the armed services during WW II. I am not sure if that was the total during the three and a half years of the war or the count at any one time. The U.S. ‘standing army’ was 200,000 prior to the onset of war. We called them “regular army”. After we entered the war in December of 1941 and the ‘draft’ (conscription) started one could still ‘volunteer for the Army Air Corps, the Marine Corp, or the Navy. Since most young men from 18 on were subject to the draft and therefore knew that ultimately, when their lottery number came up, they would be drafted those who wanted to choose a service to die in volunteered for that service. So I would say that all of our armed services were at least 95% filled with draftees or volunteers who knew and accepted the fact that part of their life was to be spent in the war against fascism.

    I was a freshman in college in 1942 and we had several volunteer options. You could go into the Navy V12 program and become a naval officer or join an army program for the infantry. I didn’t join V12 because I didn’t want to die drowning. I had read Dalton Trumbo’s book, Johnny Got his Gun, about WW I in which Johnny lost all of his physical senses but was still alive in his brain. I didn’t want that. In addition my father was a combat infantry officer in WWI and had shrapnel in his head and I didn’t want that. There were a number of other programs that one could volunteer for that generally were more dangerous and demanding but had an aura of romance such as “mountain troops”, “artillery spotters in light planes”,etc. As a child I had always been fascinated by airplanes. I spent many hours building model airplanes and flying them. In summer I would walk miles to our local airport on Sundays when a ‘barnstorming’ group came through to put on an airshow. I figured that if I were going to die it would be fast and complete in an airplane so I volunteered for the Air Corps cadet program and was accepted.

    • I understand the casualty rate for Allied air personnel over Europe was rather frightful. Despicable though Gen. Curtis LeMay was to me on political grounds, I have to express some admiration for his leadership of bombing raids on Germany. Perhaps it’s a myth needing debunking, but the story goes: fed up with a high rate of Sick Call in air crews on sortie days, the general allegedly personally flew in the lead plane on every raid and woe to the personnel who were absent from that mission! Perhaps he had a double filling this role? What shall we suppose a certain Yossarian would have made of all that?

      And now I must beg your forgiveness for making yet another movie reference here. I only recently saw for the first time Howard Hughes’s 1930 production, HELL’S ANGELS. There is a simply fantastic sequence, running more than 20 minutes, of a German zeppelin raid over London. I won’t divulge details, thus spoiling things for anyone who is curious to pursue this film. I will simply say that the logistics of the operation seemed plausible and the sequence riveted my attention. I wasn’t previously aware that aircraft got involved in action over England in WW I, casting a foreshadow of what would happen on a much greater, more horrific scale next time Germany found a way to go to war with Britain. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

  3. My uncle loved skiing and so he volunteered to join the “alpine” troops in WWII. He served in Europe and then came home to study fine arts at the University of Denver for two years. He loved European culture and art so much that he spent most of the rest of his life as an artisan specializing in antique reproductions in Munich Germany.

    My father, the younger of two brothers, wanted to join the Navy after graduating from high school at the age of seventeen. My grandmother wouldn’t hear of it, though, and refused to sign his enlistment papers. But my dad had seen his father’s car parked in front of a local Native American woman’s house on numerous occasions, and so he threatened to tell grandma unless grandpa signed his enlistment papers. My Grandfather caved in to the extortion and signed the papers, which enraged grandma. Things turned out poorly for grandpa, at any rate, since my uncle heard about the situation and told grandma. So grandma divorced grandpa and my dad served as a Navy signalman in the Pacific during the war, taking part in the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests in 1946, just before his discharge.

    A different time and a different place. Unfortunately for America and the world, the Lunatic Leviathan spawned by WWII — namely, U.S. belligerent corporate militarism — only replaced German, Italian, and Japanese fascism with a superficially “democratic” American version. So, in the end, our fascists defeated their fascists and Fascism won. Now, with the ultra-right-wing gains in the recent European elections, the U.S. supported neo-nazi coup in Ukraine, and Japanese hints at militarist rearmament — this time with tons of reprocessed plutonium in stock — it looks like “their fascists” might just want a shot at sharing the title with ours.

    Something to think about when remembering D-Day. Or, one could go to see the new movie, “Edge of Tomorrow,” starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, wherein our heroes fall into a Groundhog Day time reset where they must repeat a D-Day-like invasion of France every day until they figure out how to defeat the slimy, tentacled aliens who have overrun the Eurasian continent. Guess who “wins” in the end?

  4. Michael.. Your second to the last paragraph above hit a chord with me. I have always been proud what I was able to do during the war but I now feel, as you, that my youth was wasted as we have become what we went to war in 1941 for. We are torturing, wantonly killing with drones, and like the third Reich seeking world domination of resources and markets and damn the damage we do to achieve it.
    Our ‘leaders’ have usurped our victory in WW II and used it to build the false narrative that our
    ‘War on Terror’ is an extension of our victory for ‘democracy’ in WW II. It is depressing as I reach the end of my journey. I had hoped for a better outcome.

    • “In time, every successful revolution puts on the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.” — Barbara Tuchman

      “If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you” — Friedrich Nietzsche

      “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” — Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

      And for you, personally, my friend:

      “Do not go gentle into that good night,
      Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

      Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
      Because their words had forked no lightning they
      Do not go gentle into that good night.

      Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
      Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

      Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
      And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
      Do not go gentle into that good night.

      Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
      Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

      And you, my father, there on the sad height,
      Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
      Do not go gentle into that good night.
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light. — Dylan Thomas

  5. Thank you Michael. A beautiful poem. I treasure it and the thoughtfulness of its source. I fully understand the message and although others may find it my curse I know no other way. Contrariness has given me success, thoughtfulness, and failure. It is built into my DNA and I am an actor when it is not shown. It can be a burden but it is my burden and I carry it with pride and honor.

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