“I don’t suppose there’s a man here who’s 30 but they look old ... Behind me lies a hard fought field ... The dead lie sprawled in every attitude. Their uniforms are dirty and torn, their faces like yellow clay and unshaven. Brown dried blood stains them. Today’s been one of those days in battle when the heebie jeebies are in order.”
-- Brig. Gen. Ted Roosevelt Jr., 15 miles southeast of Cherbourg, France, writing to his wife, Eleanor -- “The Guns at Last Light” -- Rick Atkinson
Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. On those beaches in France on June 6, 1944, D-Day, 70 years ago, more than 150,000 Allied soldiers, including 73,000 Americans, landed on those five beaches. It’s hard to imagine in this age of modern warfare such a huge armada -- 14,000 vessels, 12,000 aircraft -- all poised to push Nazi Germany out of France and put an end to Hitler’s Third Reich.
It’s difficult to comprehend the sacrificial mindset of our Greatest Generation who assaulted those beaches knowing the chances were high they would be killed or wounded. Allied casualties on that single day are estimated to be 10,000, but a totally accurate count is unavailable. According to U.S. National D-Day Memorial Foundation research, there were 2,499 American fatalities and 1,914 from the other Allied nations, totaling 4,413 dead. It would get worse as the Allies pushed farther into France. The D-Day Museum in the United Kingdom recounts that, “Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy.”
If this huge effort had failed, we would be living in a very different world. Britain was already on its knees; rationing allotted only 2 ounces of cheese a day. Thousands had died from Hitler’s bombing and thousands more spent their nights in the Tube, London’s underground railroad.
The honors we give to our World War II veterans and the memorials we build are richly deserved. Those who survived D-Day and other veterans of World War II are dying, according to the National World War II Museum, at a rate of 555 per day. There are only a little more than a million American WWII survivors, 29,025 in Georgia.
It is impossible to thank an entire generation of men and women for their sacrifices during WWII. The least we can do is make sure their courage, strength and resolve, guide us toward our better selves today and into the future.