Every year it seems that the Invasion of France on this date in 1944 recedes a bit deeper into history. That’s a shame because it was a massive effort in which the US as well as British, Commonwealth, and other allies threw the chests of their young men at Fortress Europa to liberate France and the rest of Europe from the death grip of the Germans. Of course, the French have
continued to show us their contempt remained grateful to this day. I’ll not comment further on that as it will distract from my subject.
“OK, we’ll go.” With those words, General Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his decision to proceed with Operation Overlord, the invasion of France. The weather was crappy, but the tides wouldn’t be right for another month. The fear was that word of the invasion would leak out and the Germans would have more time to prepare defenses and probably know the exact location of the landings.
On that day there were heroes and heroic acts everywhere. Whether it was the paratroopers that landed in the dark to sow confusion among the enemy, the Rangers that scaled Pointe du Hoc, or the British who took Pegasus Bridge. Allied troops performed beyond what anyone could have expected of them. Every year I re read “First Wave at Omaha” because it best captures the courage that it took to land on those beaches.
It seems that for some duty has become unfashionable these days, uncool in modern society. I’m sure that none of the soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach really wanted to be there. I’m also sure that none of them wanted to drown in the freezing water or die on that cold, wet, beach. Still, they went and behind them came more troops, perhaps even more brave because they could see the slaughter that awaited them. Had they failed, had they faltered, it is likely that the Germans would have held France and forced the Allies to sue for peace. Imagine what that world would be like. They didn’t fail or falter, they won and the world is better for their efforts and sacrifices.
If D-Day gets little attention, the Battle of Midway seems almost forgotten outside of those who study military history. June 4-7, 1942 a sea battle took place that changed the course of history in the Pacific Theater. Navy, Marine, and Army aviators paid a high price to defeat the best naval air force in the world. The sinking the aircraft carriers Hiryu, Soryu, Kaga, and Agaki destroyed the heart of Japanese Naval Aviation. A month earlier at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the carriers Zuikaku and Shōkaku were damaged enough to be out of commission for Midway.
All six ships had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor six months before. Now all six were destroyed, damaged, or had had their air crews killed. Losing four aircraft carriers with two more unavailable for operations for months was a blow from which the Japanese never recovered. Even worse was the loss of a large number of experienced Japanese naval aviators. From that moment on, the United States was on the offensive in the Pacific, the Japanese were on the defensive.
The Japanese failed in every objective, especially the primary one of sinking the US carriers that they had missed at Pearl Harbor. Had he Japanese won, the US would likely have been forced to negotiate an end to the war in the Pacific.
A combination of the breaking of the Japanese code, good guesses, and better luck made it possible for the US defeat a superior naval force. More than three more years of tough combat lay ahead before Japan was defeated, but it all started at Midway.
As you go about your day today, take a few moments to think of those heroes of long ago and thank them. Both those that are gone and that ever diminishing number that are still with us.