Thursday of this week, June 6, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of an event so enormous that no American should ever forget ... D-Day. The allied invasion of France that ultimately signaled the end for Adolph Hitler’s gang of Nazi cutthroat savages.
More than 155,000 Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen from many countries fought and thousands gave their lives on those bloody beaches that day, and in the weeks that followed as they fought to mop up the last scraps of German resistance through the fields and swamps of Normandy.
I’m sure it will be re-run on TV this week, and if you have never seen the movie, “The Longest Day”, you should watch it. Rent it online or find the DVD at a retail store. But watch it ... watch it with your children and grandchildren and make sure they know how important it is that they remember what happened that day.
Based on the best-selling book by Cornelius Ryan, the film features an all-star cast, a virtual Who’s Who of movie stars of that 1960 era — John Wayne, Telly Savalas, Richard Burton, Eddie Albert, Sean Connery and dozens of others — and chronicles the D-Day invasion step-by-step, and how a simple, innocent series of crossword puzzles in a London newspaper almost stopped the invasion before it ever began.
Dubbed “Operation Overlord” by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, and others in the process, the top-secret invasion and the landing zones assigned to troops destined for those German-occupied beachheads were tagged with hush-hush code words known only to a select handful of the top brass: Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword and Utah. The actual landing itself was called “Operation Neptune”.
Planning for the gigantic assembly of naval vessels and aircraft began more than a year earlier, in 1943, with Allied forces even assigning a “dummy” name to a deliberately “leaked” invasion plan — Operation Bodyguard — to throw the Germans off of the scent of the real plan.
But, lo and behold, in the weeks leading up to the invasion, the exact code names associated with the REAL invasion — Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha, Utah, Overload, and Neptune — showed up over the course of several days as words in crossword puzzles in the London newspaper! It just about sent Allied forces — who feared the worst — into a frenzied tailspin as they investigated the origin of the puzzles, fearing that the Germans had cracked the codes and gotten a’hold of the invasion plans.
As it turned out, after a thorough going-over by intelligence officials, it was learned that the authors of the crosswords had actually written them at different times over a period of weeks or months before they ran in the paper, and their appearance was totally — although almost unbelievably — purely coincidental!
Many factors screamed loudly that fate had aligned itself squarely against the invasion, not the least of which were the rough seas and unpredictable weather over the English channel.
Postponing the invasion, however, would have meant a delay of weeks, and given the enormity of the assembly of tens of thousands of planes, ships and boots on the ground, and certain discovery by Hitler’s chief of command of occupied Normandy, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
The weather over the Channel was so awful that, based on reports available to them, many Wehrmacht commanders took leave of their posts to attend nearby war games, thinking that no invasion would surely happen under such conditions. Rommel himself even returned to Germany for his wife’s birthday celebration!
Allied weather intelligence, however, indicated a tiny break in the weather of the North Atlantic would occur ... with barely enough time to pull off the massive feat if everything went as planned.
Group Captain James Stagg, of the British Royal Air Force, met with Eisenhower on the evening of June 4, and based on those forecasts, decided that the invasion would launch as planned two days later .. June 6, 1944.
God smiled on the process, and through the cover of darkness and thick fog, beginning at midnight local time, a contingent of more than 13,000 paratroopers with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were dropped behind the landing zones in the pre-dawn hours prior to the invasion by engine-less gliders, along with another 10,000 British, Canadian, Polish and French airborne troops to pave the way for the amphibious landings that would soon arrive by sea.
In a comedy of errors in the pre-dawn hours leading up to the invasion, as the paratroopers were seen and reported across the region, some German commanders called Hitler’s headquarters to express their alarm that the invasion was underway. Hitler’s “gatekeepers”, however, refused to awaken a viciously temperamental Fuhrer and disturb his restful evening. (Don’t you imagine that heads rolled afterward!!???)
At 6:30 a.m. local time that morning, the battle was on and Hell itself was unleased, as German forces spread along the 50-mile stretch of beaches awoke to find themselves in the cross-hairs of an intimidating armada of more than 5,000 Naval ships and landing craft coming straight at them, unlike any the world had ever seen.
On the two American beachheads — Utah and Omaha — the U.S. suffered 2,501 casualties on June 6. In all, more than 4,400 died that day. During the entire D-Day operations, more than 9,000 Americans lost their lives.
Launched from airfields and ports in Great Britain, D-Day still holds the record as being the largest air and amphibious assault in history.
My late uncle, Heyward Jenkins, was a part of that battle, went ashore to fight on those bloody beaches, and lived to return home and tell his unforgettable story. I am blessed to have been able to sit and talk with him and listen as he told how a Gideon New Testament — received the night before from visiting Chaplains — stuffed down into his jacket pocket stopped a German slug from ripping into his heart.
Even if you don’t watch the movie — which is a faithful and historically accurate rendition of the events of D-Day and the months leading up to the invasion — get a copy of Ryan’s book. I have read “The Longest Day” four times and the story gets more fascinating with each read.
The men who served in that bloody fight are leaving our midst at an alarming rate, and for those who remain, I just wants to say THANK YOU, HEROES! Thank you for what you went through so that the people of not only France, but of the entire European continent, could soon be free from the cold-blooded occupation of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi thugs.