“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.” Ronald Reagan, June 6, 1984
With all of the controversy surrounding the release of five of the Taliban top commanders in exchange for an alleged American deserter from the U.S. Army who claimed the Army was a “joke” we should look back seventy years to remember the boys of Pointe du Hoc.
Seventy years ago on this day, June 6, 1944, the allied armies, under the direction of General Eisenhower, invaded the coast of France to liberate the European Continent from the clutches of Hitler’s Nazi armies.
Over 160,000 troops from America, Britain, Canada, free France, Poland, and other nations landed along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast of France. It was the largest amphibious invasion force in world history, supported by 5,000 ships with 195,700 navy personnel and 13,000 aircraft. It was a major turning point in World War II.
The steps which led up to D-Day deserve serious examination.
After World War I, Germany's economy suffered from depression and a devaluation of their currency.
On January 30, 1933, Adolph Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany by promising hope and universal healthcare. Less than a month later, on February 27, 1933, a crisis occurred - the Reichstag, Germany's Capitol Building, was suspiciously set on fire.
He ordered mass arrests followed by executions, even ordering his SS and Gestapo secret police to murder rivals, as during the Night of the Long Knives.
Using diplomatic intimidation, deception, and Blitzkrieg 'lightning' attacks, Hitler's National Socialist Workers' Party proceeded to take control of: Austria, The Sudeten Region, Bohemia, Moravia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland, France, Monaco, Greece, The Channel Island (UK), Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states, Serbia, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Finland, Croatia and more.
The National Socialist Workers Party operated over 1,200 concentration camps where an estimated 4,251,500 people lost their lives.
Church leaders who spoke out in opposition to Hitler were arrested and executed.
In his D-Day Orders, June 6, 1944, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower sent nearly 100,000 Allied troops marching across Europe to defeat Hitler's National Socialist Workers Party:
"You are about to embark upon a great crusade... The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. You will bring about...the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely. And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."
President Franklin Roosevelt stated June 6, 1944:
"My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God, Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization. Give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, and steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard.
For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. We know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph. ”Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”
"Help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice. I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts. Give us strength and, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee. With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen."
Eleven months after D-Day, the war in Europe ended with an Allied victory on May 8, 1945.
Although the term D-Day is used routinely as military lingo for the day an operation or event will take place, for many it is also synonymous with June 6, 1944, the day the Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, beginning the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control during World War II. Within three months, the northern part of France would be freed and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.
With Hitler's armies in control of most of mainland Europe, the Allies knew that a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. Hitler knew this too, and was expecting an assault on northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944. He hoped to repel the Allies from the coast with a strong counterattack that would delay future invasion attempts, giving him time to throw the majority of his forces into defeating the Soviet Union in the east. Once that was accomplished, he believed an all-out victory would soon be his.
On the morning of June 5, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops began to leave England for the trip to France. That night, 822 aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.
By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where 2,000 troops were lost and it was only through the tenacity and quick-wittedness of troops on the ground that the objective was achieved. By day's end, 155,000 Allied troops — Americans, British and Canadians — had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.
For their part, the Germans suffered from confusion in the ranks and the absence of celebrated commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was away on leave. At first, Hitler, believing that the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack and reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causing delays. He also hesitated in calling for armored divisions to help in the defense. In addition, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.
Though it did not go off exactly as planned, as later claimed by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery— for example, the Allies were able to land only fractions of the supplies and vehicles they had intended in France — D-Day was a decided success. By the end of June, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across Europe.
The heroism and bravery displayed by troops from the Allied countries on D-Day has served as inspiration for several films, most famously The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). It was also depicted in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers (2001).
My guess is that today less than 50% of Americans know the full story of the Normandy landings and the heroism of the troops who carried it out. This is the fault of our education system that focuses on things such as civil rights, the environment, and other progressive causes. Heroism is not on their agenda. It was certainly not on the agenda of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the alleged army deserter exchanged by President Obama for five of the most notorious and vicious Taliban terrorists.
Today President Obama will make a statement from Normandy. I will not listen to or watch this presidential photo-op. Instead I will read the remarks made by President Ronald Reagan made on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1984 from Pointe du Hoc:
“We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For 4 long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.”
I think I know what you may be thinking right now — thinking “we were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.” Well, everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him.
Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, “Sorry I’m a few minutes late,” as if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.
There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.
All of these men were part of a rollcall of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers.
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought — or felt in their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.
Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”
These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.
When the war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt a new Europe together.
There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall plan led to the Atlantic alliance — a great alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace.
In spite of our great efforts and successes, not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They’re still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war. Because of this, allied forces still stand on this continent. Today, as 40 years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose — to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.
We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.
But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.
It’s fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the Earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.
We will pray forever that some day that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.
We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We’re bound by reality. The strength of America’s allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe’s democracies. We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.
Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”
Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.
Thank you very much, and God bless you all.”
It is estimated that less than 10% of our World War II veterans are alive today. When WWII ended these veterans returned home to raise families, build and buy houses. They went to college under the GI Bill of Rights. They became teachers, engineers, businessmen, and factory workers. They made the same level of contribution to our nation in peace time that they made during the war. They talked very little of their experiences during the war.
I consider myself very fortunate to have known a few of these veterans, both as family members, co-workers, and friends. As a person too young to participate in World War 2 I stand in awe of the sacrifice, courage, and contribution of these veterans.
They have been called the “Greatest Generation” due to their rise from the Great Depression of the 1930’s to their contribution in WWII and the peace that followed. Yes, they were great but so were those of other generations. Generations who fought for our freedom in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Those who fought to end slavery and preserve the Union in the Civil War and all those who served during the Cold War to thwart the expansion of Communism and the Soviet Union. And those who willing volunteered to fight against Islamic terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close and soldiers who once would have died from their wounds on the fields of battle are now returning home due to the tremendous advances in battlefield and trauma medicine. They are returning home not to ticker-tape parades and cheering crowds but to families that have to dealing with not only their physical disabilities but to their emotional distress caused by PTSD. They are returning home to broken Veterans Administration, the government agency responsible for their medical care.
So on this 70th anniversary of D-Day let us remember all of those who sacrificed so much in our name.