Few days conjure so much emotion as the 6th of June, 1944. D-Day, the “Greatest Generation’s” greatest moment, still inspires. And rightly so! American citizen-soldiers were bedecked with glory, from the 82nd Airborne paratroopers dropped over Sainte-Mère-Église, to the infantry crawling on beaches swept by machinegun fire.
General Eisenhower broadcasted the following message prior to the operation:
“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. … 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 blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Over 175,000 allied troops descended on the coast of Normandy, from the sea and from the air. They battled mines, barbed wire, bunkers and murderous fire to conquer a beachhead. In the end they conquered Europe.
The ultimate book on the subject is The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan. It also became an Oscar winning movie, a black and white epic featuring the who’s who of the American cinema of the early sixties.
Another literary gem depicting D-Day events is The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-day Sacrifice by Alex Kershaw. This book depicts the story of one small American town whose youth went to war and died on Omaha Beach. Bedford, Virginia – population 3,000 – sent 22 young men to their ultimate sacrifice in Normandy.
Inspired by The Bedford Boys, Steven Spielberg created Saving Private Ryan. The movie opens with a gritty realistic battle scene, depicting the landings on Omaha Beach. In the good tradition of D-day movies, Saving Private Ryan became an Oscar winning success as well.
June 6 also marks another milestone in American Military History. On this day, in 1918, the first large operation conducted by Americans in WWI began when General Pershing ordered a counteroffensive to drive the Germans out of Belleau Wood.
One of the most fascinating books on this subject is Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps. In a savage, month-long fight, the 4th Marine Brigade pushed the entrenched Germans out of Belleau Wood. They were bestowed the nickname “Devil Dogs” by the enemy and forged a reputation as “America’s fiercest warriors” while securing the future of the Corps.
Marius Tecoanta, is a commissioned officer with the Oregon National Guard. He has had a diverse career in law enforcement and military and an abiding passion for military history. Tecoanta is the co-author of the historical fiction novel, Hidden Wounds: A Soldier’s Burden