June 6, 2012, is a day forever etched into my heart and mind.
Anxiously, my husband and I checked into the hospital around 5 a.m. and by 6:30 that morning our lives were already beginning to change. Only a few short hours later, we celebrated the birth of our third little boy. It was a day marked with smiles, hugs, tears of joy, and pride.
June 6, 1944, however, was a much different day for thousands of other American mothers. Though they were a world away from their “little” boys and unaware of their circumstances, by 6:30 that morning their lives were beginning to change as well. This would definitely be a day forever etched into their hearts and minds. A day that would bring immense sadness, heartache, grief…and pride until the very day those mothers were laid to rest.
Though it was June, the morning was miserably cold in the English Channel. Butterflies filled the stomachs of the thousands of young American men as they mentally prepared themselves to make history on a foreign beach in the largest amphibious invasion ever known. The encouraging words of the Allied Forces Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower echoed in their minds to remind them of the importance of their mission and keep them focused:
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle.
We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
Most of the young warriors had never experienced combat. Many of them had never spent the night away from home before they left for war. Some had been drafted before they even graduated high school. These were not soldiers hardened by years of intense hatred and crafted to kill since adolescence nor were they fearless superheroes with superpowers. They were just ordinary boys who deeply loved their country and were determined to stop the evil Axis powers in order to protect others and defend our freedoms.
The homesick boys struggled to hold down their breakfast that morning as they battled their nerves and the nausea from sloshing side to side in the crammed flat-bottomed landing crafts. The sky was overcast and the waves were fierce. They had been trained for this battle and warned that they would likely not make it home, but nothing could have prepared them for the moment they were commanded to hit the beach.
Both the American 1st Infantry and 29th Infantry Divisions were scheduled to land around one hour after low tide. However, due to mines and obstacles in the water, the soldiers still had to wade in bloody oil-stained water for 75-100 feet with heavy gear while holding their rifles above their heads as bullets whizzed all around them and unseen mines detonated.
Stifling their emotions and fixing their eyes on their targets, they pressed on as they pushed the floating bodies of their brothers to the side in order to make a path to the beach. Many soldiers were shot the instant the ramp of the Higgins boat opened. Numerous boats were blasted and sunk before they had the chance to unload. Countless men drowned before their boots touched land. Carnage littered the 200-300 yards of vulnerable beach. Also strewn across the open ground were some 10,000 mines and miles of barbed wire to slow the soldiers down as they scrambled to find protection.
The explosions were deafening. The images of men in pieces were scarring. The smell of burning flesh was unforgettable. The screams of men in agony were devastating. The indescribable feelings of fear and helplessness were traumatizing. The hours of relentless gunfire were fatal.
This dark, unfathomable day was D-Day, the day the Allied Forces of America, Britain, Canada, and France attacked German forces on the beaches of Normandy. The casualty rate on the western end of Omaha beach was nearly 80% for the 29th Infantry Division in just the first 15 minutes upon landing. To the east, the first wave of the 1st Infantry suffered a 50% casualty loss. Historians still continue to calculate the death toll as many bodies were never found or identified.
Though weather was uncooperative and the plan of invading Normandy was predicted to be a failure up until the very last minute, this remarkable victory was the beginning of the end of WWII in Europe. By the end of that disastrous day, over 150,000 troops had landed in Normandy and smashed their way inland allowing more troops to land over the days ahead. In just a matter of weeks, over a half a million Allied troops had arrived and began ridding France of the ruthless Germans.
These inexperienced, selfless young men indeed made history and changed history forever.
This Thursday, June 6, is my little boy’s 7th birthday and also the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Because of those unbelievably brave men we only knew as kind-hearted “Papaws,” my little boy will have a day filled with laughter, cake, and the freedom to celebrate his life with friends. What a different day it would be had there not been devoted gentlemen who boldly fought to liberate a people they had never even met. What a different day it would be had there not been mothers who instilled patriotism in the hearts of their precious little boys.
God forbid our nation ever experiences another World War, but if that were to ever be so, I would hope my boys would remember the sacrifices of these heroes, unapologetically stand for truth, and be willing to courageously defend our freedoms and the freedoms of the oppressed.
What a blessing it is to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. May we never take for granted the simple things, like a seven-year-old’s birthday party. Let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great nation on this 75th anniversary and on every one to follow.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.