“Oh Hell Oease, I got 5 Battle stars and a Purple Heart but I can’t do what I want in my own home,” would often say my Grandfather, Buford, to my Grandmother Oease as they lovingly bickered. A WW2 Veteran, Buford was present on the 2nd wave of D-Day and on through Germany. He was a humble man who didn’t speak too often of his war experience except when he needed it to save my Grandmother from giving him the business. Little heads up to my fellow GWOT Veterans, I’ve tried to pull the same thing with my wife utilizing my war experience and all it got me was a blank stare and weeklong set of blue balls. I’d pass if I were you, but since my Grandfather lived before the age of Viagra he didn’t seem to care and it worked for good ole Buford. But as we sit here to remember the actions of our Grandfathers on the anniversary of D-Day, I wonder if we really remember. Now this is not some hoity-toity how you should honor Vets in remembrance, but just an acknowledgment that we might not remember as much as we thought about this epic battle. So I thought I’d take us on an Unprecedentedly Mediocre journey that we might truly remember D-Day.
To My Airborne Army Dogs
Now this is hard for a Marine to admit, but what the American Paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions accomplished on D-Day is absolutely unprecedented in the war. The entire might of the Third Reich lay before them and yet for an evening, there were but 13,100 fighting men descending from the skies to kick off the liberation of Europe. When they descended from the skies at night, most were greeted with a hailstorm of small arms fire, anti-aircraft flak, and swarms of Germans scurrying below them. Scattered by the winds and most off-course they descended into Europe during the dark of night alone.
Personally, if it were me in their shoes, my first assault on the Germans would have been biological via the piss running down my leg. Look, I’ve been shot at and I’ve felt the pucker factor hit a high 10. But I’ve never been dangling above my enemy where I could have been shot straight up that same pucker. For the most part, many of these men were not hardened combat veterans as for most it was the first time they had seen action. To do what these men did on D-Day took insurmountable courage, inexplicable gallantry, and a genuine willingness to bring the fight to the enemy. Like the good people of Gruntworks say with their shirt below, the airborne does indeed arrive violently.
This is the keystone event in Airborne history in my book. There were larger drops, Operation Market Garden, but nothing as violent and uncertain as this. The last American combat airdrop that I can find took place in Iraq and as far as I can tell wasn’t opposed in any great magnitude. I’ll any readers were personally there and have better info on that, please share it. There are few men alive who can describe what it is like to slowly descend into the jaws of the enemy. Helpless and without defense, many died before they ever hit the ground. As far as I’m concerned I don’t think we will see an Airborne assault like it ever again due to modern technology, but again you Airborne guys can weigh in on that.
The Landings on D-Day
As far as World War 2 goes, the Marines like to brag that we owned amphibious landings as that was our go-to move in the Pacific. But every time we mention that some Army dog has to bring up D-Day. How many Marines were at D-Day they ask to which I always reply, “Lots but they were just special forces and you couldn’t see them.” But yes, the landings on D-Day was the largest amphibious assault ever seen and the Army did it, not the Marines. Take a look at this clip of Americans and Germans describing what they saw on D-Day.
What do you do when you are first in line waiting for the ramp to drop? You are 18 and 19-years old having living nothing of life and you are about to take on the full brunt of the Third Reich. Germans have spent years preparing for this moment and when the ramp drops the first American face they are going to see is yours. Holy crap. You are too far away to at least piss on them like a paratrooper and all you can do is move forward. Many of them never made off the boat, countless numbers drowned in the water under the weight of their gear, and if you were lucky enough to make it ashore then it had still just begun. The courage and fortitude in the face of such sure death is truly incomprehensible.
During the first wave of the landings, literally the first wave, there was only one American General present and fittingly it was Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Yes, that is Rough Rider and former President Teddy Roosevelt’s son. When your Daddy is Teddy I don’t know how you live up to your father’s legacy, but strolling the beaches of Normandy with a cane like a pimp is a good start.
Roosevelt Jr. had to petition several times to be on the beach during the first wave and he was denied multiple times because they thought he would surely die. When he did depart, General Barton shook his hand said he was certain he would never see him again. Eventually, he was given permission and it paid off huge for the invasion. When General Omar Bradley was asked the bravest thing he had seen in the war he said without hesitation, “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach.” Roosevelt survived that day and received the Medal of Honor for his actions. But make no mistake about it, this entire invasion was a legion of gallant men marching straight into the face of death. That they not only survived, but won the day is truly worthy of remembrance.
Famously, Eisenhower had a speech pre-written in the case of failure and in that speech he wrote, “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” Yes, D-Day could have failed and history would have been re-written. Hardened Veterans of all subsequent wars can’t help but look back in awe at what these men accomplished that day.
One of my other writing gigs is for a site called War History Online and you can click the link to find the Facebook page. They have over 600,000 followers and certainly don’t need me to plug them, but I do so for your sake. It’s consumable bites of history all can enjoy. If we want to remember the gallant actions of warriors in past ages, then let us truly remember them by taking in doses of its history. Memes are great, but telling your kids what you Grandfather did because you actually remember it is better. The generation that fought this war is dying off at an alarming pace and there is no reason their sacrifice should be left only to history buffs. We can in fact truly remember them and ensure our children do the same. In the comments below, I’d love to hear your favorite and most admired D-Day story as we remember them together. Tell me your stories!
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