75 years ago today, the D-day invasion occurred. Every year on June 6, I try to take time to reflect on the immense sacrifice and valor that were shown by the Allies that day. It’s a sobering exercise, but I try my best to put myself into the shoes of the men who were assigned the duty to attack Normandy.
The logistics of the attack were immense, and the coordination was incredible. Below I’ve included this graphic to give you an idea of just how large all aspects of this single day operation were. 156,000 allied troops were used; we haven’t seen anything on that scale since. The terrain was harsh, the enemy entrenched, and the specter of what loomed was terrifying.
There are plenty of articles (and many, many books) that go into the actual planning and execution (even the battle plans themselves) of Operation Overlord. I can’t restate all the facts as well as they can; I’ll include some further reading suggestions at the end and highly suggest that you go and educate yourself about one of the most monumental military engagements in history.
What I’m going to try to do is bring this home on a personal level, from my very removed position of an American woman sitting in comfort and safety, 75 years after this event changed the world. My own life, and that of my children (and you, by extension) could look entirely different if 156,00 troops hadn’t been deployed. If 4,413 of them hadn’t been sacrificed, with full knowledge of the dangers they were facing..
The human impact of being one of the boots-on-the-ground troops assigned to attack Normandy on June 6, 1944 brings tears to my eyes 75 years later. The odds were nearly insurmountable, and the boys who were to face the threat of the Nazis across the channel knew it.
They knew it as soon as they got the orders. That they were likely going into a venture that would result in their death, or at the very least the deaths of someone they knew and cared about. And that the death they would have to stare in the face, would be a horrific, terrifying, and painful one. Whether that meant storming the entrenched bunkers of the Nazis built into the very stone of high ground of a foreign shore, or it meant drowning from heavy gear in crashing waves, or being cut down by machine gun fire before they’ve even had the chance to stand to get off the boat. Or, for their airborne brethren, it could be dying in a shot down plane, getting picked off from the ground while they dangled defenselessly mid-drop in their parachute. Perhaps getting stuck in a tree and killed by ground troops; or the actual chance to face battle and engage the enemy face to face, if they were lucky enough to get that far, and pray to make it through.
And those are just a handful of the myriad actual deaths that occurred. And they still went.
Because the character of the boys who were sent to face down the looming terror of a world under Nazi control, meant the sacrifice would be worth it. They swallowed their bile, they powered through the tunnel vision, steadied their shaking hands on their rifles, and they went. They jumped, or they ran, or they swam….and many of them died for it. But they were willing to give it their all, for US.
This wasn’t an abstract idea that motivated them. It was that they knew, they wanted their sweethearts, or wives, or children, and future grandchildren, to live in a world without this threat. And to buy that future for us (I am the proud grandchild of a World War II veteran), they would go and do the most terrifying thing I can imagine.
That’s the kind of commitment to others that is incredible to see. Bravery is being afraid, and doing it anyway. The ultimate illustration of bravery is going into terrible odds, and being scared to do it, but still getting it done. So I try to live my life in a way to show those thousands of young men who sacrificed, that I appreciate what they gave us. I try to show my children, that our world would have been much different if the young men of a hazy and increasingly distant past, hadn’t made an in-the-moment choice to face fear, thousands of them, and give all they had for us. The sacrifices made that day weren’t only deaths; there were horrific woundings, of the body, and of the soul and heart. Some recovered, some didn’t. And I will be eternally grateful for all they gave. For looking into the mouth of a dragon, and charging with their swords right into the maw. Because that’s the kind of decision that takes more bravery than we can fully realize in the abstract. And it’s the kind I pray I would have, if I were faced with that situation.
I try to remind myself in life, when minor things get me down (and in comparison to Normandy, it’s all minor), that my problems aren’t that bad. That I am privileged to be bothered by minor things, and that so many others in the past have faced true hardship. And I imagine what it would be like, in a sea of flak, seeing other aircraft fall in flames around, and then being told, it’s my turn to jump in the maelstrom. And I say to myself: “This isn’t Normandy. I can handle it.”
So remember that, when you’re stuck in traffic, and someone cuts you off. Or some jerk stabs you in the back at work. Or you argue with your obscure relative on facebook. Or, your wifi doesn’t work. Or, any other problem in our modern American world: “This isn’t Normandy. I can handle it.”
And if you WERE at Normandy, pray that you could have handled that, like our ancestors did.
If you’d like to read further about the invasion, I very highly recommend www.dday.org They also do incredible outreach; I recommend donating to them if you can.
They have survivor accounts, and very informative articles about the invasion itself. If you ever are in the area of Bedford, Virginia, PLEASE go to the National D-day Memorial. It is a truly awe-inspiring experience Bedford had the largest per-capita deaths at D-day in America of any town, so Bedford is the official site for the memorial. Here’s an article about the human toll of losing 20 men in one day from a small farming town: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/article/Bedford-Virginia-lost-20-men-on-D-Day-13950155.php