Sunday, June 6, 2010

D-Day, The Sixth of June

Coming so close to Memorial Day, the anniversary of D-Day tends to be over-shadowed. June 6th, 1944 was a pivotal day in the history of the world we now know, for Europe had been in the iron grip of a madman for 4 years, and now the Allies sought to dislodge the Nazis from The Continent. To that end, upwards of 150,000 men, supported by thousands of aircraft and hundreds of ships, set out to invade France in the area of Normandy, securing a wide beachhead, and putting ashore a sufficient force to drive the enemy back. It would be the largest amphibious assault operation in history, and when it was over that day, 10,000 Allied troops would be killed, wounded, go missing, or be captured.

Given the constant chatter about freedom, liberty, and tyranny that seems to suffuse the United States currently, it seems only fitting to revisit this moment in history, when true oppression was wrestled down and driven back by the determination and steel of men picked from every corner of America. They would fight and die under the most brutal conditions, many having never strayed far beyond the area surrounding their home town, now forced to endure boiling sun, mud, freezing temperatures, and the constant threat of death, on soil they had never seen, fighting for people they did not know. They fought an implacable enemy, one that had run roughshod over a large swath of the world, and was now paying the price for the arrogance and antipathy of their leaders.

The Nazi regime was totalitarian, seeking uniformity and racial purity, wishing to stamp their imprint on the whole world, one section at a time. It slaughtered innocents without thought or care, except toward how quickly and efficiently it could be done. Its leader, Adolf Hitler, was a raging egomaniac, surrounded by toadies and sycophants, bent on meting out punishment for the "injustice" of Germany's defeat in WWI and to satisfy his hatred of the Jews, whom he wrongly presumed were the cause of all his country's woes. WWII was his meat grinder, chewing up both Germans and their neighbors alike, remaking the world in his image, a stark and garish place of black uniforms, jackboots, and Aryan purity.

Into this maw of death the tens of thousands marched this day, hurling themselves onto the beaches of France, many cut down before they could take shot, or left to lie wounded as their comrades streamed past, to take the fight to the enemy. It was hot, brutal, messy work for Indiana farm boys, Brooklyn street toughs, Wyoming farm hands, and all the other various types of men that comprised the American contingent of the invasion force. Some men broke, some men found fortitude they did not know they had, and still others only wished to get the job done to go home, but on they came, through hellish mortar and machine gun fire, to storm the Atlantic Wall and pour inland.

If you go there now, the scars of that day, save for a few, are mainly washed away. There are the memorials scattered through towns and villages all along Normandy, as well as the great museums to the day, and, of course, the cemeteries, where the honored dead lie not far from where they met their end. It is peaceful there now, a tranquility restored through the sacrifice of so many in the desperate hours of that day and the weeks that passed.

Before we talk of freedom and liberty, let us pause to remember these men, who fought and died on a distant shore to bring that which we take for granted, to people who were starved for it. Let us not embellish our suffering in our country currently, with rhetoric best left for those who suffered under true oppression and tyranny. Let us remember that the fight for democracy and freedom is an on-going one, and that we do these men a disservice by playing to politics, for they died not just to free a continent, but to keep America free of those who would have eventually tried to oppress it. All we have and all we are, is due to this day, and the lives given that we might remain free.

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