6 June 2016

The Day Called D

Today is the seventy second anniversary of D-day. Canadians, British and American soldiers stormed ashore under heavy fire to gain a foothold in France. Their courage and sacrifice helped bring about the end of the Nazi Tyranny, and should never be forgotten.

Most of the popular culture portrayals of D-Day are focused on the American experience, and usually at the disaster of Omaha beach. Saving Private Ryan, for instance, begins with a graphic depiction of the landing at Omaha. I have heard many people say it is the most graphic and realistic portrayal of the battle. In actual fact, the battle was far, far, worse. The movie makes it seem as though the Americans were hung up on the beach for twenty minutes or so, when in actual fact they were pinned down for hours. If you multiply the scene from the movie by a factor of ten, you will begin to have an inkling of just how little you will ever understand what the men went through on the beach.  Through shear guts and determination they waded through the bloody tide and took control of the beach. By the end of the day they were one mile inland.

Less attention is paid to the other American beach, Utah. That was the cakewalk of the entire operation, with the fewest casualties and the farthest advance inland. It was also a mistake. The boat guiding the landing craft in hit a mine and sank. The rest of the craft got caught in a crosswind and strong current, and landed far from their original target, in a spot where the Germans had barely begun to construct their defenses.

The Americans had the extremes of experience on D-Day, both the best and the worst. The British and Canadians forces fell somewhere in between. Of the three British/Canadian Beaches, the most successful was the landing at Juno, the Canadian beach. They pushed far inland and were second only to the landings at Utah.

Yet the landings at D-day failed to achieve the lofty goals of the planners. The troops were to rush inland, link up with paratroopers who had been dropped to secure vital points and throw a defensive perimeter around the city of Caen. The men who sat far from the battlefields and drew lines on a map had set impossible goals for the troops. Caen was not captured on D-Day nor D plus ten nor D plus twenty. It fell over a month after the landings, and then only after it had been obliterated. The month in between had been full of hard fought inches and massacres on both sides. The landings of D-Day were a prelude to slaughter.

The old men who gather today on the beaches and remember lost chums and old friends have lived through horrors none of us, who live under the shadow of safety and peace their sacrifice provided, will ever understand. Their courage and devotion should never, ever be forgotten.

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