This past June 6th commemorated the sixty-fourth anniversary of D-Day, the invasion that began the liberation of Europe. Unfortunately, most news media outlets ignored this anniversary, or merely gave it cursory coverage, mostly at the end of their broadcasts. None of the television networks, not even the American Movie Classics (AMC) channel, broadcast any “special programming.” Fortunately, the History Channel broadcast several hours of programming which covered almost all aspects of the invasion. Libraries contain massive volumes that describe the blood, sweat and sacrifice required for making this invasion successful. Unfortunately, our “progressive” education system largely ignores this part of our national experience, meaning that this knowledge may soon disappear. Because we ignore the lessons learned from our past wars, we risk losing our current war, and our civilization as well.
The D-Day invasion launched the liberation of continental Europe from Germany during World War II. It required almost two years of the most extensive planning conducted by the Allied command in Europe. The odds of success for this invasion seem impossible by today’s standards: marginal weather conditions, well-defended beaches held by well-trained troops, inadequate intelligence and conducted by largely inexperienced troops. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied supreme commander even composed a letter acknowledging failure, in case the invasion failed. Against these odds the Allied soldiers landed, suffered heavy casualties and persevered, and for this they deserve our eternal gratitude.
As I watched the morning news on June 6th, I noticed the only mention of D-Day on the Fox News Channel. Maybe I missed the commemorations on the other channels as I “surfed” them for any relevant coverage. Even on the Fox News Channel the coverage mostly consisted of less than five minutes. The commentators that I watched cover it did publicly thank the D-Day veterans, and all veterans as well.
That evening when I watched the local news on the major networks I saw no mention of D-Day. In the past these networks interviewed local veterans who participated in the invasion, but not this time. Again, maybe in my effort at viewing all the channels I missed the coverage, which means any coverage proved brief. Perhaps with the advancing age, and mortality rate, of these veterans the networks found no one capable of relating their experiences.
Hollywood, which broadcasts “special programming” for almost any event, particularly if it reflects their political views, ignored D-Day. Particularly given today’s circumstances, Hollywood avoids any military related films, unless they openly portray our soldiers as the “bad guys.” In the past AMC broadcast movies that portrayed the D-Day invasion, such as: The Longest Day, D-Day, the 6th of June or Saving Private Ryan. Instead, AMC entertained us with a montage of the “Planet of the Apes” movies. It appears that these Hollywood “big shots” conveniently forgot those whose sacrifices secured their “artistic license.”
I watched the commemoration of D-Day on the History Channel, which covered all phases of the invasion. Perhaps I missed the media coverage because of my overwhelming interest in the programming provided by the History Channel. If so, I offer my sincere apology; however, I believe my earlier assessment remains correct regarding the media and Hollywood. I thank the History Channel for their extensive programming, programming that our education system desperately needs.
As I stated above, libraries contain volumes of historical information regarding D-Day, as well as military historical repositories. Coincidentally I am reading Blood and Sacrifice, a book about the history of the 16th Infantry Regiment. The 16th Infantry landed in the first assault on Omaha Beach at Normandy, and suffered heavy casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Steven Clay (USA) produced this book for the Cantigny Military History Series, sponsored by the Cantigny First Infantry Division Foundation. During my Army career I proudly served with that unit, and Omaha Beach holds a special place in that unit’s history. Coincidentally, I read about the sacrifices of the 16th Infantry on D-Day during the period of June 5, 2008. Eagerly I awaited the next day’s commemoration of D-Day, and found little outside the History Channel.
D-Day became necessary for the liberation of continental Europe from German occupation, and the defeat of Nazi Germany. It also soothed the Soviet Union’s dictator, Josef Stalin, in opening his demanded “second front.” Even the German dictator, Adolph Hitler, understood the uneasy alliance between the Western democracies and Soviet communism. At various times Germany tried negotiating a separate peace with both the West and the Soviets.
Most people cover up the alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union when World War II began. An alliance brokered in 1939, which resulted in their joint occupation of Poland and Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries. When Germany launched its blitzkrieg in May, 1940 against Western Europe, the Soviet Union did nothing. Only the unexpected invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany in June, 1941 (another June anniversary) broke this alliance.
The defeat of the Western Allies brought other nations into Axis alliance, believing they joined the winning side. Albania became a de facto member after Italy conquered and annexed it in April, 1939. Japan entered the alliance in September, 1940 for obtaining concessions from Vichy France, and its future plans against the US. Hungary, and Romania joined in November, 1940 and Bulgaria in March, 1941 because they feared Stalin more than Hitler. The German puppet states of Slovakia and Croatia joined in November, 1940 and June, 1941, respectively. Finland, defeated by the Soviets in 1940, fought with Germany against the Soviet Union, but did not join the alliance.
When planning for D-Day began Axis forces occupied all of continental Europe, except for neutral Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Axis armies plunged deep into the Soviet Union, with fighting raging in the suburbs of Moscow. They further held much of North Africa, largely through the collaboration of the Vichy government of France. German and Italian forces steadily advanced on the Suez Canal in Egypt from the Italian colony of Libya. This threatened communications between England and its Commonwealth nations, India, Australia and New Zealand.
German U-boats (submarines) attacked American shipping off the East Coast of the United States, within sight and sound of the beaches. One History Channel program about this part of the war stated that the German submariners called this the “happy time.” The bottom line, the United States entered World War II on the losing side, and continued losing for six months.
The United States possessed the manpower and industrial base for winning the war, however it must harness this power. We began mobilizing this power with the shocking defeat of France in June of 1940 (June again) amidst vocal political opposition. Following its withdrawal at Dunkirk, England seemed on the verge of defeat, leaving nothing between Germany and us.
Unfortunately we found ourselves grossly unprepared for modern war and “isolationism” dominated the American public’s attitude. Historian Charles MacDonald wrote The Mighty Endeavor about the war effort in Europe, and detailed our frantic preparations for war. Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall described the American Army as “that of a third-rate power.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) declared a national emergency, which mobilized the National Guard and Reserve forces. Of importance for us today, once mobilized those guardsmen and reservists served for the duration, at least five years.
The American high command possessed several ambitious military plans, called RAINBOW for their different color codes. Unfortunately we lacked the means for carrying out these plans even if forced into war. For twenty years both the White House and Congress neglected the Armed Forces, leaving them under-strength and with obsolete equipment.
Congress soon appropriated more funds than our military leaders requested for overcoming this neglect. In August of 1940 Congress legislated the nation’s first peacetime draft, however with severe restrictions on using the draftees. Unfortunately, appropriating the funds does not immediately provide the equipment or construct the facilities for the enlarged forces. The 16th Infantry conducted its first amphibious warfare training in December, 1940 using rowboats borrowed from an ocean liner.
In January, 1941 after bitter debate Congress passed the bill that made the US, the “Arsenal of Democracy.” This arsenal provided equipment not only for our military, but also for the British Empire, China, and our South American allies. With the German invasion of the Soviet Union we provided them with “lend-lease” equipment. The mobilization of American industry ranks as one of the major achievements of the war effort. However, this success did not occur immediately, and did not achieve full mobilization until late 1943 or early 1944. While American industrial workers struggled at meeting all of their demands American troops trained with broomstick rifles.
MacDonald states that even after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor our military leaders decided that we must defeat Germany first. Keeping England in the war meant keeping the Commonwealth nations in the war, nations needed for fighting Japan. The British Royal Navy successfully kept the German Kriegsmarine (Navy) from dominating the Atlantic Ocean, and invading the US. Most importantly, England served as a strategic base for striking at the European continent. Defeating Germany and Italy first required an invasion of continental Europe, and the heavily defended beaches.
However, dissension in the Allied high command, and the inadequate resources available, hindered early efforts. Many battle-hardened British senior officers resented the selection of the inexperienced Eisenhower as supreme commander. Stalin clamored for a “second front,” and FDR tried pressuring British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, for an early invasion.
FDR and the American high command pressured the British for one very good reason. The American public demanded action against Japan, the nation that attacked us and killed our troops. Furthermore, Japan began conquering American possessions: the Philippine Islands, Guam, Wake Island and the Alaskan islands of Attu and Kiska. In the process the Japanese killed or captured thousands of American troops; and their families demanded revenge. MacDonald further states that the British feared abandonment in Europe by the Americans if they continued balking at an invasion.
Churchill and the British high command also faced problems with the rapid Japanese advance. They suffered the loss of many of their territories: Hong Kong, Malaya and their prominent naval base at Singapore. British and Commonwealth forces lost about 100,000 troops in the fall of Singapore alone. The Japanese advance pushed toward India and Australia, and launched bombing raids on Port Moresby and Darwin in Australia. India, Australia and New Zealand withdrew substantial numbers of their forces from North Africa for defending their homelands. This jeopardized the British defense of the Suez Canal, and threatened Allied fortunes in the Middle East.
The Japanese advance into Burma jeopardized China’s continuance in the war with the closure of the famous Burma Road. China possessed a large military force, although it proved poorly armed, equipped and led. With Japan in control of most of China’s coastline, the Burma Road provided the only line of communication for Chinese forces. If Japan defeated China this subsequently released hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops for other operations.
Ambitiously, the Allies launched a large-scale amphibious raid on the French coast at Dieppe in August, 1942. This raid later became synonymous with disaster, and a source of resentment among the Canadians, who made up the bulk of the forces. Of the 5,000 troops landed the Allied naval forces only rescued about 1,500. Consequently, a successful invasion needed more planning and more resources for any hope of success.
During this time the 16th Infantry and its parent 1st Infantry Division trained in England for the invasion of Europe. With the failure of Dieppe, the Allies must find another place for launching its “second front.” Furthermore, the bulk of American forces remained in the US and must traverse the hostile waters of the Atlantic. At Churchill’s urging FDR decided for an invasion of French North Africa, under the control of the Vichy government.
Although in open collaboration with the Axis Powers, Vichy France remained technically a neutral country. In today’s terms it did not threaten the United States and did not participate in the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the Allies faced desperate times at the end of 1942 and faced the possibility of losing the war. Allied leaders further hoped that French citizens still resented their humiliation by the Germans in 1940.
A Free French organization gradually formed under General Charles De Gaulle, and the Allies hoped he might find converts in North Africa. If the French in North Africa joined the Allies it potentially gave the Allies a reinforcement of 120,000 troops. Once the Allies secured French North Africa they would strike eastward for relieving the pressure on British forces defending the Suez Canal. Besides, North Africa possessed more space for marshalling the American men and materiel for ultimately invading Europe.
While planning for D-Day continued in London, Allied soldiers engaged in almost two years of bloody campaigns. First, the Allied naval forces must win the “Battle of the Atlantic” against the German U-boats. Allied air forces began a costly bombing campaign of Europe for softening German defenses and damaging German industrial power. The Allies launched invasions on the periphery of Europe spreading out Axis defenses and gaining a strategic advantage.
More importantly, the inexperienced American troops gained valuable combat experience, and American commanders learned the lessons of modern warfare. This “baptism of fire” proved costly, particularly in the deserts of French North Africa. They suffered a bloody defeat from the veteran Afrika Korps, which cost 6,000 casualties of the 30,000 committed. Allied commanders painfully learned about conducting coalition warfare, communications security and the importance of logistical operations. Despite heavy casualties, American and British forces liberated French North Africa and captured over 250,000 Axis troops.
The Allies next invaded the island of Sicily, described by Churchill as the “soft underbelly of Europe.” Allied leaders received intelligence describing Italy as the “weak” Axis nation, and resentful of their dominance by Germany. However, the invasion of Sicily proved that intelligence under estimated Italian resistance when defending their homeland. The hard-fought victory cost the Allies 22,000 casualties, considered an “acceptable” number at the time.
Meanwhile, Allied commanders and troops gained more experience in amphibious warfare and coordinating air, ground and naval operations. American officers and men continued maturing into the professional army needed for ultimately defeating the Axis Powers. The Soviet Union began counterattacking the over-extended Axis forces, capturing an entire army at Stalingrad. Although at a tremendous cost, the Allies slowly gained the upper hand over the Axis Powers in 1943.
The conquest of Sicily and invasion of the Italian mainland forced the surrender of Italy. German forces now assumed the entire responsibility for defending Italy, since abandoning it opened the southern flank of Germany. Unfortunately for Allied soldiers in Italy, the mountainous terrain favored the defending German Army. Italy’s surrender and the deteriorating situation against the Soviets forced a weakening of Germany’s defenses along the Western Front.
During this time the dramatic national mobilization of American resources made the invasion of Europe a possibility. The “Arsenal of Democracy” made the US military the most potent force in the world. American factories operated twenty-four hours per day producing the armaments for the Allied nations, and the ships for transporting them. Gradually the Allied navies began winning the “Battle for the Atlantic” against the German U-boats. This allowed for the massive movement of men and materiel into the British Isles, and other theaters of war.
This too came at a high price for the Allies: 2,828 merchant ships, 187 warships, an unknown number of aircraft and about 40,000 personnel. Few know that the US Merchant Marine suffered proportionately the highest casualty rate of all the services. Almost every source describes the “Murmansk Run,” for supplying the Soviets, as the most hazardous duty.
Across the English Channel, the Germans saw the build-up of Allied forces and understood the threat of invasion. Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the famed “Desert Fox” of Afrika Korps fame, commanded the troops that manned the beach defenses. He began a program of constructing obstacles, field fortifications and planting minefields for defeating Allied soldiers as they landed. Unfortunately, Rommel and the other German commanders labored under severe restrictions that hindered their efforts.
MacDonald states that the German forces in France largely served as a replacement pool for the Russian front. This policy increased in March, 1944 when Hungary surrendered, taking its forces out of the war against the Soviet Union. Most of the troops in France consisted of those burned out from fighting in the East, training divisions and so-called static divisions.
The quality of the soldiers declined since the conquering days of 1940 as events forced a lowering of recruiting standards. Most of the soldiers in the static divisions suffered from wounds, which rendered them unsuitable for combat divisions. All the units received “ethnic German” soldiers from conquered countries that bordered Germany, and “volunteers” from occupied countries. A significant number came from Soviet prisoners of war, including numbers of anti-communists from non-Russian Soviet states. As the situation further deteriorated for the Germans they fielded old men and young boys from the Hitler Jugend.
Units in France supposedly enjoyed the priority for receiving tanks and other equipment, however this soon changed. The needs of units in combat both in Italy and in the East required a significant number merely for replacing combat losses. Nevertheless, a significant number of panzer units remained in a mobile reserve well behind the beaches.
Most historians cite the Germans for military precision and efficiency; however the command structure in France contradicts that stereotype. First, Hitler thought himself a “military genius,” and interfered with his commanders often with ruthless consequences. Although Rommel commanded the troops manning the beach defenses, he served under Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt. The two men disagreed on the best way of defeating the Allied invasion, and Hitler did little for resolving this issue. Rommel wanted the initial landings defeated, while Rundstedt wanted a mobile counterattack after he determined the main Allied landing’s location. As field marshals, both men possessed open access with Hitler, subverting the normal chain of command.
Hitler tried adopting both plans, however by this time Germany lacked both the men and materiel for strengthening defenses in France. Rommel did not receive the requested amount of concrete for strengthening his emplacements, or the number of land mines. However, he improvised and the number of beach obstacles forced a change in Allied plans.
More significantly, Hitler placed most of the panzer divisions under the direct control of the Army high command (OKW), meaning himself. When the invasion occurred, the OKW operations officer, General Albert Jodl, did not awaken Hitler. This delayed any movement by these divisions until the morning of June 7th, when Allied air forces attacked them.
Intelligence remains the major priority for any military operation; which includes enemy forces, weather and terrain. The Allies received significant assistance in this from the French Maquis (Resistance), often aided by Allied agents. These unsung heroes took enormous risks and paid a heavy price for providing this information. Additionally, they engaged in a critical campaign of sabotage against the German transportation and communications systems before the invasion.
The many deception plans, code-named Operation Bodyguard, proved the most crucial of pre-invasion intelligence. Churchill described this as the “bodyguard of lies” necessary for protecting the truth, and they succeeded tremendously. The most famous of these plans, Operation Fortitude South, entailed the fictitious army group assembled around Lieutenant General George S. Patton. Patton’s ruse kept the German Fifteenth Army concentrated at the Pas de Calais, and away from Normandy. Operation Fortitude North created a fictitious British army assembled in Scotland for invading Norway, tying down about 400,000 German troops.
Two other major deception plans concentrated on deceiving the Germans in the Mediterranean Theater. This prevented the Germans from transferring troops into France once the invasion began. Churchill actually favored launching one of these plans, Operation Zeppelin, for invading the Balkans and relieving pressure in Italy.
These plans relied on false radio transmissions, establishing false headquarters and installations using “dummy” equipment and “leaking” false information. First, Allied counterintelligence neutralized all fifty of the German agents working in England, with several becoming “double agents.” Allied air supremacy minimized German aerial reconnaissance over England, while Allied reconnaissance aircraft flew virtually unmolested.
Weather proved the biggest factor regarding the invasion, and effected the plans of the Germans as well as the Allies. Allied commanders faced either attacking under marginal conditions, or waiting three weeks for favorable conditions. Based on past experience, German commanders believed Eisenhower too cautious, believing he would not invade in such weather.
Rommel too believed the weather prevented any invasion and scheduled a leave for surprising his wife on her birthday, June 6th. The historynet website states that the German Seventh Army, responsible for the Normandy defenses, scheduled a “war game.” This placed all of its senior commanders in the southern Norman town of Rennes, far from the landing. The Kriegsmarine cancelled all patrols in the English Channel because of the danger posed by the high seas.
The weather further cancelled the invasion, set for June the 5th, and Allied leaders feared for the worst. Eisenhower faced a heavy decision, a decision that rested on his shoulders alone, and making the wrong decision risked failure. If this invasion failed, it probably delayed another attempt for at least one year, possibly two. Furthermore, a failure possibly ended Eisenhower’s military career, placing him in the history books as a failure.
Fortunately, the Allies possessed better meteorological technology than the Germans, and the staff weather officer detected a break on June 6th. The enormity of the invasion forces and the diversity of their missions required a prompt decision. Spread across southern England, these units must depart at different times for arriving at Normandy at the same time. Waiting three weeks for good weather required the off-loading of troops and equipment from transport ships. This off-loading and other delays threatened troop morale and potentially dulled their “fighting edge.”
The crowding of the British Isles became an increasing concern as Eisenhower anticipated the doubling of American troops within weeks. British citizens found themselves restricted from movement in southern England and travel between England and Ireland forbidden. Even the most inept intelligence service would deduce the purpose of this, providing ample warning.
When Eisenhower gave the “GO” he set in motion the largest amphibious operation in history, to that date. It further executed an operation that required almost two years of planning and preparation, bloody supporting campaigns and international cooperation. However, nothing guaranteed success, and in an operation of this magnitude much could go wrong.
One axiom of military operations states that no plan survives past the first bullet fired, or words to that effect. Almost everyone in the military knows “Murphy’s Law,” which states, “what can go wrong, will go wrong.” The American soldier’s dark humor created an acronym for this called SNAFU, Situation Normal, All F***ed Up. It seemed that almost everything went wrong on D-Day, however, the Allied soldiers overcame these situations and persevered.
The bad weather and rough seas created havoc among the aircraft and ships transporting the soldiers. Late in the evening of June 5th the airborne troops began landing behind the beaches for disrupting German defenses. In Steven Ambrose’s book, Band of Brothers, he describes the aircraft, first buffeted by the weather and then by German anti-aircraft fire. Subsequently, these disruptions scattered the paratroopers over the Norman landscape, intermixing the units and making organized operations difficult.
MacDonald states that hundreds fell into stretches of lowland, previously flooded by the Germans, and many drowned. Everyone who watched the movie, The Longest Day, remembers the tragic landing in Ste. Mere-Eglise. MacDonald confirms that twenty men did land here, where the Germans either killed or captured them. Glider-borne troops often crashed into hedgerows or suffered from the German-emplaced obstacles known as Rommelsspargel (Rommel’s asparagus).
Despite these problems the airborne soldiers succeeded in their mission beyond all belief. Small groups of men, often led by non-commissioned officers, struck the Germans where they found them. Their broad dispersal created more confusion among the German defenders and prevented organized resistance. The use of dummy paratroopers helped deceive German commanders into believing that this signified a diversionary attack.
Twelve miles off the coast the American assault troops descended into their landing craft using dangerous cargo nets. Unfortunately many of these men subsequently fell into the English Channel and drowned because of the rough seas. The majority who made it down the nets soon became soaked with seawater, with a majority becoming seasick and vomiting.
Of the six American infantry divisions participating in the assault, only two possessed combat experience. The 1st Infantry Division fought through the North African and Sicily campaigns, including the amphibious assaults. The 82nd Airborne Division conducted combat jumps in Sicily and Italy, and some combat in Italy as regular infantry. However, both divisions suffered heavy casualties during these operations, meaning that both possessed a significant number of inexperienced replacements. Fortunately, most of the non-commissioned officers of these units previously faced combat, which later made the difference.
As they approached the beaches landing craft, disoriented by the dark and rough seas, headed for the wrong beaches. Some swamped and sank, taking most of their human cargoes down with them. Special “duplex drive” (DD) tanks fitted with floatation devices sank one-by-one, with 27 of 29 destined for Omaha Beach sinking.
The landings occurred with mixed results, depending on the circumstances they endured, particularly for the Americans. At Utah Beach the 4th and 90th Infantry Divisions found the weak spot in the German defenses. The 4th landed over one mile from its designated beach, however, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., made a fateful decision. Furthermore, the gently sloping terrain presented no obstacle as the troops consolidated their positions and advanced. In less than three hours the 4th Infantry Division controlled the beach and moved inland toward the paratroopers.
The British and Canadians who landed at Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches also fared fairly well. These beaches also gently sloped upward with no towering bluffs presenting a formidable obstacle. They further faced a German static division made up mostly of Eastern European “volunteers,” with one battalion breaking early in the fighting.
Omaha Beach proved the most difficult of the beaches, and the most hotly defended by the Germans. The 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions landed on this beach against the German 352nd Infantry Division. Although a static division it ranked as one of the best at Normandy, full of veterans from the Russian front. Coincidentally this division engaged in a defensive exercise at the time when the Americans landed. Sources differ whether Allied intelligence detected the presence of this division, but most say it went undetected. Fortunately the division commander disobeyed Rommel’s orders and only posted two infantry battalions and one artillery battalion on the beach.
This proved enough as the Americans landed amidst a heavy volume of fire that destroyed many approaching landing craft. Other craft dropped their ramp and the disembarking men immediately became casualties. Those men not immediately hit must now wade chest-deep water bearing all of their equipment. Men who made it ashore stepped on the bodies of their comrades as they sought cover.
The infantry battalions landed without their traditional artillery support, receiving support only from naval gunfire. German fire wiped out at least one of the naval gunfire support teams, rendering communications ineffective. Other communications gear damaged from the seawater and other causes further hindered any coordination between units and naval support.
One half hour after the initial landing eight tanks of the 741st Tank Battalion came ashore from landing craft. Some stalled out from seawater in their engines and the Germans knocked most of them out. Also in this second wave came engineers of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade for removing beach obstacles. These courageous men suffered fifty per cent casualties as they performed their duty under intense fire.
The beach remained in a confused state, with most of the troops huddled beneath the sea wall. Even the veterans of the 1st Infantry Division felt the effects of the horrendous conditions and seemed in shock. Making matters worse, the 16th Infantry Regiment’s advance command post (CP) landed under a hail of fire. The regimental executive officer died in this fire, leaving the command group leaderless as it struggled ashore. Of the 102 men in this group 35 became casualties before they reached the shore.
When the 16th Infantry’s 3rd Battalion CP landed, it found itself among members of the 29th Infantry Division. This group must traverse two thousand yards of beach, under heavy fire, before it reached its unit. Twelve men from this group arrived unscathed at their destination, leaving behind much of the equipment needed.
Officers and non-commissioned officers suffered high casualties as they tried organizing their units in the confusion. The sea wall grew crowded as follow-on waves of troops landed and mingled with the survivors of the first wave. The 16th Infantry’s Cannon Company landed one and one-half hours after the first wave for providing fire support. Unfortunately it lost most of its guns and vehicles in the landing, therefore the company commander committed it as a rifle company.
Approximately two hours after the initial landing Colonel George Taylor, the 16th Infantry’s commander, arrived amid the chaos. Taylor commanded the regiment during the North Africa and Sicily campaigns and he found a pending disaster. He assembled as many of his subordinate commanders as possible and ordered an advance. Taylor then walked among the frightened men and tried encouraging them with his leadership example. At one point he said, “There are only two kinds of people on this beach; the dead and those who are about to die. So let’s get the Hell out of here.”
By task organization A Company, 1st Medical Battalion provided medical support for the 16th Infantry. Its landing craft hit the beach at about two and one-half hours after the first wave and immediately came under fire. Although clearly marked with red crosses the Germans fired on it with machine guns and anti-tank cannon. As the medics tried struggling ashore, the Germans fired on them, killing and wounding many. The crew of the craft backed it from the shore, depriving the regiment of badly needed medical care.
In the sector of beach assaulted by the 29th Infantry Division the situation seemed much the same as with the 1st. The 29th, originally a National Guard division, presented a special problem with its casualties. Most of the men served in the same companies as their friends and neighbors, much like the volunteers of the Civil War. If one company suffered heavily, it affected an entire town, such as Bedford, Virginia. On this one day the town lost nineteen of its sons, from a population of 4,000, the heaviest proportionate rate.
At one point General Omar Bradley, the commander of the 12th Army Group, considered diverting follow-on troops to Utah Beach. The men already on the beach must survive on their own, with little chance of evacuation. Fortunately this became unnecessary as men began following the example of Taylor and other leaders.
A few Navy destroyers came so close for providing fire support that they risked grounding. More naval gunfire support teams came ashore for directing this fire and silenced many German positions. Small groups of men slowly advanced against the Germans, with many falling, but with others continuing the advance. By noon the advance took these men up the steep bluffs and astride a highway a few hundred yards inland.
Between Omaha and Utah Beaches stood the steepest bluff at a place called Pointe du Hoc. Intelligence indicated a battery of six large artillery pieces that threatened the landings on both beaches. The Allied air forces tried bombing the position, and the navies shelled it, all with no effect. The 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder inherited this mission. The Rangers landed, launched rocket-propelled grappling hooks and ropes up the hundred-foot cliff and began climbing. German troops fired down on them, while others tried cutting the ropes as the Rangers climbed.
Within five minutes the Rangers scaled the cliff and cleared the last German defenders from the gun emplacements. Rudder and his men found that the Germans removed the guns farther inland and replaced them with telephone poles. He then took his command inland, secured the guns, spiked them and prepared a defense. The Rangers fought off five German counterattacks for over two days before relieved by other American troops. During these two days the Rangers suffered almost 70% casualties and ran out of food.
Inaction in the German high commands greatly helped the Allies avoid disaster on D-Day. Rundstedt believed the Normandy attack merely a diversion for the main attack at the Pas de Calais. This kept the German Fifteenth Army out of the Normandy fight, and awaiting Patton’s fictitious force. Rommel did not reach his headquarters until late in the afternoon of June 6th, too late for repelling the Allied landings. Hitler awoke at four o’clock that afternoon and released control of the mobile panzer reserve, again too late.
By four o’clock the troops from Utah Beach pushed across the narrow causeways and secured the firmer ground around Ste. Mere-Eglise. Only a pocket of determined German resistance prevented the linkup with the airborne soldiers. Behind them follow on forces and supplies landed on the secure beachhead and prepared for pushing forward the next day.
The British and Canadians moved about five miles inland and established contact with British airborne troops. Although they did not secure all of their objectives, they secured enough terrain for providing “breathing space” for future operations.
By four o’clock even Omaha Beach seemed secure, although at no place did the beachhead exceed one mile in depth. Although badly battered, the 1st Division occupied a solid defensive line and prepared for counterattack. The 745th Tank Battalion landed and strengthened the division’s defenses and the artillery battalions established firing positions on the beach. As the fighting died down men separated from their units in the chaos rejoined their companies.
The cost of this victory came at a high price, almost 10,000 for all Allied forces. About 2,500 of these casualties occurred in the meat-grinder of Omaha Beach. At the beginning of D-Day the 16th Infantry possessed some 3,600 personnel and suffered 945 casualties by the end of the day.
Combat did not end with nightfall, as the Germans launched counterattacks throughout the night. Bypassed Germans fired on the beaches with machine guns and others adjusted artillery as landing craft approached. It took several days of “mop up” operations for eliminating this threat, and additional casualties.
As on the other beaches, follow on forces and supplies landed at Omaha Beach, relieving the pressure on the battered assault troops. The conditions at Omaha proved so precarious that troops scheduled for landing the next day hit the beach the evening of D-Day. These fresh troops pushed forward, expanding the depth of the beachhead and blunted the force of German counterattacks. Meanwhile the Germans still held back their Fifteenth Army at Pa de Calais awaiting the “main landing” under Patton.
General Bradley surveyed the carnage of Omaha Beach and what he saw astonished him. Many veterans of the 1st Infantry Division believed that Bradley harbored displeasure with the division from an incident in the North African campaign. Some believe he assigned the 1st Omaha Beach as a sort of punishment, given its forbidding terrain. Whatever animosity Bradley felt for the division, the division’s performance at Omaha wiped it away. He wrote later in his book, A Soldier’s Story, of the 1st Infantry Division against the unexpected German resistance:
Had a less experienced division that the 1st Infantry stumbled into this crack resistance [German 352nd Infantry Division], it might easily have been thrown back into the Channel. Unjust though it was, my choice of the 1st to spearhead the invasion probably saved us Omaha Beach and a catastrophe on the landing.
MacDonald states that with the continuous flow of Allied men and materiel into the secure beachheads, the high command viewed the casualties as “acceptable.” Learning of the success in England, Eisenhower released a message broadcasting the successful landing. He supposedly tore up the other message, the one announcing the failure of the landing.
MacDonald mentions the subsequent reactions on the “home front,” both in England and in the US. Most Britons learned of the invasion while at work, and felt relief at finally launching this offensive. Many spontaneously sang, “God Save the King,” others prayed and church bells rang in celebration. At noon Churchill addressed the House of Commons, feeding German fears, he announced, “the first of a series of landings.”
In the US the news arrived on the East Coast at 3:33 A.M., June the 6th. As the news spread across the nation sleeping towns awoke, people turned on their lights, sat by their radios and knelt in prayer. Here too, church bells rang in celebration of the victory.
Despite the excellent planning and preparation, the extensive training, the landing at Omaha Beach almost failed. First, the plan proved inflexible, particularly when confronted with unexpected conditions. Air and naval bombardment failed in their mission of softening up the beaches, and no plan existed for additional supporting fires. Landing craft became disoriented, landing troops in the wrong places, and sometimes dropping them in deep water.
Intelligence did not properly track the movements of the German 352nd Infantry Division, the best in Normandy. This placed the troops on Omaha at a severe disadvantage, particularly since this division engaged in a defensive exercise. Despite information of the low morale of the German defenders, the morale of the 352nd proved high.
The success on Omaha Beach relied on the training, small unit leadership and individual initiative instilled in the American soldier. Colonel Taylor and his battalion commanders of the 16th Infantry “led by example” and moved their men off the beach. Captains, lieutenants and sergeants led small groups of men forward against the Germans, often losing their lives in the process. In the absence of their leaders, private soldiers took charge and accomplished their missions, despite heavy casualties.
Most Americans today when they hear of the sacrifices of D-Day often express their gratitude for those who fought there. However, do they really mean this, or is this a conditioned response when learning of such sacrifices? In most history classes today American students only receive a cursory education regarding such events as D-Day. In the last American history course I took in college the textbook (sorry I forget the title) spent one short paragraph on D-Day.
However, the textbook spent several paragraphs covering World War II era racial policies. It further covered the women working in the defense industries in a quite lengthy column. I do not doubt the relevance of articles regarding racial policies, women and other defense workers. However, what about the soldiers, sailors, airman, marines and merchant seamen who braved combat, experiences that the textbook barely covered?
It seems that many of today’s American who lack the personal experience of such sacrifices, view these sacrifices as merely statistics. Worse yet, they view them as a “nice story,” something not relevant in the “busy” world of today. They do not understand the sacrifices made by those Americans who left their families for defending their country. Without the sacrifice of those Americans on D-Day, and all American veterans, we would not enjoy our freedoms.
These disturbing analyses make me wonder if today’s Americans would undergo similar circumstances as World War II. Particularly given our partisan divisions regarding our current war against terrorism, and the public anti-war sentiment that demonizes our soldiers. Before Pearl Harbor Americans proved deeply divided regarding entry into the war and “isolationism” dominated the American policy. These divisions included pacifists (against all war), America First (defend only the Western Hemisphere), the German-American Bund (pro-Nazis) and the Communist Party USA (pro-Soviet Union) among the most prominent. However, once news of Pearl Harbor reached the American public, the debate over entering the war ended.
I thought I saw similar stirrings among most Americans after the horror of 9/11, and a determination for striking back. The only opposition I saw came from those considered the “Far Left” that seemingly supports everything anti-American. Unfortunately this resurgence of patriotism lasted only about three weeks as politicians sought advantage from the tragedy of 9/11.
At the beginning of this piece I stated that the US entered World War II on the losing side. Furthermore, we entered the war after suffering a devastating defeat at our prominent naval base in the Pacific. This defeat hindered our performance in the initial campaigns of the war, causing a continuous string of defeats. When the Philippine Islands fell about 70,000 American and Filipino troops surrendered, the largest loss in our history.
Transposing today’s circumstances and attitudes, including that of many prominent Americans, on those Americans such a loss would prompt negotiations for peace. Instead of supporting FDR, the “loyal opposition” party would clamor for this peace, and blame the President for causing the war. The news media would join this effort, sensationalizing the oil embargo that “forced” Japan into attacking us.
During World War II the nation mobilized all of its resources for winning the war. The nation mobilized 16 million men for the Armed Forces using the draft, with very few deferments. No one year tours of duty either, once in the military everyone served for the “duration plus six months.” Normally once someone deployed overseas they remained overseas, as did their assigned unit.
National policy devoted all of our industrial capacity at war production, and the American public supported it. This meant that on the “home front” Americans rationed almost everything, including fuel, food and clothing. The auto industry did not manufacture any civilian automobiles from 1942 through 1946, something unthinkable today. Those Americans endured enormous sacrifices for “our boys,” who needed our unquestioned support for victory.
This sacrifice included censorship of the media, the mail and Hollywood production companies became military motion picture units. Several websites feature the popular “war posters” of World War II, posters produced for improving morale. One of these posters shows a sinking ship with the caption, “Loose lips sink ships.” This simple poster stated that national security and our soldiers’ lives trumped the public’s so-called “right to know.”
During World War II the media clearly understood their stake in an Allied victory. War correspondents traveled with Allied units, similar with those “embedded” with American units today. Perhaps the most famous of these reporters, Ernie Pyle, dearly loved the American soldier. He constantly reported on the sacrifice and heroism of our troops, and even the humorous aspects in his “Willie and Joe” cartoons. At no time did Pyle belittle or defame our troops, nor did he ever falsely accuse them of atrocities.
These correspondents cleared their reports through military public relations officers before publishing them for maintaining operational security. No one reported from Berlin, Rome or Tokyo on the opinions of our enemies, or interviewed Adolph Hitler. They did not seek out the “victims” of our strategic bombing campaign as a means of labeling our side as “war criminals.”
I found no examples of prominent journalists of the time separating America into a “red state/blue state” scenario. Nor did I find any evidence where they described national policies as that of the “Roosevelt Administration.” They did not seek out “whistleblowers” leaking vital information for hindering the nation’s war effort, or jeopardizing our soldiers’ lives.
Hollywood also understood its role in the war and many actors entered the Armed Forces. Popular actresses worked in the “Hollywood canteens” that provided refreshments for military personnel in transit. Actor Bob Hope worked with the United Service Organization (USO) and entertained the troops overseas. Hope continued these Christmas shows through Operation Desert Storm in 1990, entertaining three generations of American troops.
Several websites cover the military motion picture units that provided a valuable service during World War II. One of these, www.militarymuseum.org/1stmpu.html, provides insight into the 1st Motion Picture Unit of the US Army Air Forces. Lieutenant Colonel Jack Warner commanded this unit and Captain Ronald Reagan served as the unit adjutant. The personnel of this unit completed basic training and returned to Hollywood, using their skills in their country’s service. The unit produced training films for the Army, which enhanced the training of our rapidly expanding Armed Forces. They also produced patriotic movies, clearly for maintaining the public morale during these critical years. At the end of these movies a caption appeared encouraging the buying of “Victory Bonds.” Teams of combat cameramen accompanied combat units into the field for producing documentaries, with many cameramen becoming casualties.
This unit proved so successful that the other branches of the service soon created their own units. Famous Hollywood director John Ford, who launched the career of Hollywood icon John Wayne, became a commander in the US Navy Reserves. Ford recorded the landing of the first wave on Omaha Beach and subsequently landed with his team on the beach. Government censors edited most of his footage, “Afraid to show so many American casualties on the screen.” Ford did not protest, nor “leak” this film, understanding his role for supporting his country’s war effort.
More than one World War II veteran told me of turning in their mail unsealed for perusal by unit censors. As an experienced combat veteran I know that soldiers sometimes embellish their stories, and these embellishments get better over time. I do know that we search captured prisoners and dead bodies for anything of intelligence value. This includes the mail found on enemy soldiers, which may reveal combat operations, troop morale and the morale at home.
At least two generations of Americans matured today without the “threat” of a draft for defending our country. Military service today becomes the responsibility of volunteers, often portrayed as those Americans with “economic disadvantages.” Today many American youth throw tantrums when speaking of a draft, responding with promises of running away or physically harming themselves. This phenomenon did not recently arise, I found it expressed during the Balkan wars during the 1990’s.
Unlike during World War II, succeeding generations of Americans did not endure “home front” sacrifices during times of war. Since World War II the only people directly affected by subsequent wars are those with family members serving. I heard one comment (sorry, I forget who made it) that we currently experience “a military at war and a country at peace,” or words to that effect. Given the self-centered attitudes of most Americans today I believe such “home front” sacrifices would cause riots. In this election year the politicians and other pundits blame the war for the nation’s “sagging economy.” They clamor for ending the war and “investing” the money spent on the Armed Forces on domestic programs.
Evidence exists, although our educators bury it, that the industrial mobilization of World War II finally ended the “Great Depression.” Unemployment virtually did not exist as most men found unfit for military service found jobs in defense industries. The shortage of men prompted the training and employment of large numbers of women for the first time in our history.
Several economic historians call this period an “economic boom,” as employers offered unprecedented incentives for a shrinking labor force. This included not only high wages but, for the first time, the massive increase of employer provided medical care. Fleming states that this forced a “wage cap” on industry and the elimination of overtime pay for weekend and holiday work.
Fleming further credits the “economic boom” for the exodus of rural Americans into the cities, where most defense industries existed. This included a migration of blacks and poor whites from the economically depressed South, seeking better opportunities. These people not only competed for jobs, but the insufficient housing in these cities as well.
This proves that even in the best of “economic times” problems exist, and not everyone benefits equally. For example, when the Southerners, both black and white, moved North, they took their racial attitudes with them. Fleming describes the problems this created in Detroit, a city not previously known for racial harmony. In June of 1943 (June again) the tension erupted into a full-blown riot, including sniper firing by rioters. Only the deployment of 6,000 federal troops stopped the riot, leaving 35 dead and almost 700 injured.
While news of this incident inflamed racial tensions across the nation, no evidence existed that it harmed the war effort. No one called for dodging the draft, work stoppages or withdrawal from the war. Instead, black Americans heralded their service and rightfully used it for demanding acceptance as equal American citizens.
Regarding “domestic programs,” the almost non-existent unemployment drastically reduced the numbers needing assistance, then called “relief.” FDR, the “Father of the New Deal,” reduced domestic spending by thirty per cent because he made military victory the priority. Today, the Defense Department battles for funding on an equal basis with other federal agencies. Our politicians currently buy our votes with “earmarks” and other projects for ensuring their reelection. These projects contribute little toward victory or homeland security, however they do take badly needed funding from our troops.
Suppose those Americans, sometimes called the “Greatest Generation,” held the same attitudes as many Americans today. They would deem the cost of the war too high for even striking back at the enemy that attacked us. Hemmed in on all sides by the aggressive Axis nations, we would be at their mercy economically. Instead of reaping the benefits of our independence and economic prosperity, we would be a helpless vassal state.
Many Americans, including some that possess presidential ambitions, demand that we seek United Nations (UN) authority before launching military actions. They further demand that we seek the approval of our European “allies” and only act when they join us. During World War II the “UN authority” rested with five nations at the most: the US, England, the Soviet Union, France and (Nationalist) China. Most of our European allies, including France, suffered under German occupation and held little influence over Allied strategies.
Today the UN seems as impotent as its pre-World War II predecessor, the League of Nations. It further seems that our European “allies” forgot the lessons learned from the harsh German occupation. Instead of confronting threats from Islamofascists and the “rogue nations” that support them, our “allies” ignore them. They also forgot that American troops and equipment liberated them from Axis occupation and American dollars created their post-war economies.
Again transposing today’s most publicized attitude on World War II, finds those Americans protesting FDR for acting “unilaterally.” They then demean Churchill as FDR’s “lap dog,” succumbing to the “bribe” of the “lend-lease” program. Protesters cry “unilateralism” when we invade French North Africa, the territory of a neutral country that did not attack us. The blunders and horrendous casualties suffered in this campaign would precipitate the demands for peace negotiations. Politicians of the “loyal opposition” would declare the Axis armies too powerful, and the estimated cost too high.
In the Pacific this attitude would call for negotiations for ending the bloody campaigns in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. The Allies suffered in these bloody campaigns about 11,000 and 9,000 battle casualties, respectively. Here the troops fought the inhospitable jungle conditions as well as fanatical Japanese soldiers, suffering about 27,000 malaria cases. We obviously sent these men into combat unprepared for the conditions, and must launch a congressional investigation. Besides, no one cares about this faraway region outside our “national interest” that “posed no threat.”
Since the European “imperialist” powers claimed these territories, let them liberate them from the Japanese. Regarding the Philippine Islands, we promised them their independence anyway, this Japanese occupation provided the opportunity for granting it. Why spend American blood and treasure liberating a nation we planned to leave anyway? Let them stand on their own if they really desired independence and fight for it.
Another major difference regards the treatment of captured enemy combatants during World War II, versus today. As American and Allied forces advanced they captured hundreds of thousands of Axis prisoners of war (POW). The website, www.traces.org/germanpows.html, states that about 400,000 of them ended up in camps in the US. None of them received lawyers, nor did the US Supreme Court confer upon them the Constitutional rights of citizens. We held them until the war ended and without charging them in the criminal courts. Without “due process” we punished them by making them work on our farms, build roads and bridges and other manual labor.
Today we find almost everyone concerned with our treatment of the terrorists we captured in combat. We classified those captured as “unlawful enemy combatants,” meaning that they did not wear uniforms or serve in any military force. As terrorists deliberately targeting civilians, the Geneva Convention labels them as war criminals, outside the normal protections of the Convention. However, early in the war our leaders publicly extended Geneva Convention rights on these people. Now, between our Congress and our Supreme Court, we went beyond the Geneva Convention, granting them the rights of American common criminals. Lobbied heavily by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and other “human rights” organizations, our government gave these terrorists lawyers.
I found no record of the ACLU protesting the treatment of the POW’s captured during World War II. Nor did I find evidence of ACLU protests regarding the military tribunals of eight captured German saboteurs in June, 1942 (something else about June). German U-boats landed these men on the East Coast with explicit orders about sabotaging American industry. They damaged nothing or killed no one, not even a lone Coast Guardsman who discovered them landing. Six of these men received the death sentence and the remaining two, who voluntarily surrendered themselves, received lengthy prison terms. Coincidentally, the US Supreme Court conducted a special session for scrutinizing this case, and upheld the military tribunal.
Nor do I hear any protest from the ACLU and other “human rights” organizations when these terrorists torture and murder our POW’s. Instead they blame us for conducting an “illegal, immoral” war, or as retaliation for something we did, like the Abu Ghraib incident. The difference, we prosecuted those who conducted the Abu Ghraib abuse, unlike our terrorist enemies. Furthermore, I found no evidence that any of those “abused” by us died or suffered any physical harm from this experience.
The media that kept the Abu Ghraib story in the forefront of its stories barely covers the treatment of American POW’s. They show graphic pictures of the tortured and murdered Americans, including their names, yet never blame the terrorists. Regarding one such incident Senator Richard Durbin (R-IL) blamed the “Bush Administration,” instead of the terrorists.
What transpired between the “Greatest Generation” that won World War II and the Americans waging the war against terrorism? Truthfully, I do not know the answer and use my perceptions based on my experiences. I asked historians from several “think tanks” about this, and only one responded, stating that he did not know.
In the popular attitude of today, if something seems too difficult and too expensive, you avoid it. Do nothing that may anger aggressive “rogue nations,” and do not threaten them with military force. Instead, we must understand why these people hate us and then alter our behavior for currying their favor. Under no circumstances must we increase our military readiness; that only threatens these nations, and creates domestic problems. Continue endless, and ineffective, diplomacy and ignore it when they violate treaties and resolutions. These attitudes prevailed in the 1930’s and the world paid the price through the carnage of World War II.
As previously stated, two generations of Americans matured without experiencing the national sacrifice of World War II. Except for those directly involved in the post-World War II wars, most Americans enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle. They only know of the US as a superpower and therefore, visualize nothing that threatens our national survival.
Unfortunately a growing number of Americans, including many with political ambitions, believe we do not deserve superpower status. Even former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, stated that, “America doesn’t want to be the lone superpower,” or words to that effect. Many radical leftists state that America is “too big and too powerful,” which implies America must suffer defeat and dismemberment.
Unfortunately, I believe many of the people who feel this way achieved too much influence over our nation. Gradually they dominated our media, Hollywood, educational system and the liberal wing of the Democrat Party. Many of these people began their anti-American attitudes during the Viet Nam War, and suffered no consequences for their actions. They declared that war “illegal” and “immoral” based on their propaganda, and bury evidence of atrocities committed by our communist enemies. Furthermore, they launch personal attacks against anyone who disclose these atrocities, or disagree with their viewpoint. Since then America became the enemy and American military power the reason for all of the world’s trouble.
The distorted rhetoric of the Left demonizes our soldiers, reminiscent of the Viet Nam era, yet claims that they support them. In the next sentence these “intellectually superior” leftists benevolently call our troops “victims” of military recruiters “exploiting” them. Acts considered treasonous during World War II the Left calls “patriotic,” and they call people who support their country “traitors.” Professor Ward Churchill called those people murdered on 9/11 “little Eichmanns,” and receives the treatment of a dignitary. Former Presidents Jimmie Carter and Bill Clinton, two presidents who helped create our current mess, travel the world demonizing their country. Gold Star mother, Cindy Sheehan, received icon status, while the media ignored other Gold Star mothers, who support the war. These represent merely a few examples of the distorted “pop culture” that thrives in our nation.
Unfortunately those with the opposing views, commonly called the “Extreme Right Wing,” remain silent, often afraid of receiving a personal attack. The Left, and their “fellow travelers,” only “tolerate” those who agree with them. However, the Left tells us that we must “respect” their views and never “question their patriotism.” Like trained seals, the so-called conservative “leaders” follow their instructions from the Left, and call them “patriots.”
One may ask how all of this ties in with remembering D-Day, and the sacrifices of World War II. We face a threat just as serious as that we faced during World War II, maybe worse. Immediately after Pearl Harbor most Americans understood the threat and “rolled up their sleeves” for victory. As America’s sons and daughters sacrificed so much overseas, Americans at home spared no effort at supporting them. After 9/11, that attitude lasted three weeks, as I stated previously, and our “leaders” did not generate a war effort. Instead of calling for victory today, many of our “leaders” call for our withdrawal and defeat.
In great detail I described the blood, sweat and sacrifice endured by all Americans between Pearl Harbor and D-Day. These hardships occurred in combat across the globe and on the home front by laboring in the war industries. I further revealed some of the problems encountered, both at home and abroad, that potentially threatened the final victory. However, these Americans overcame these problems, focused on the victory and defeated the most serious threat of their generation.
After the Allies secured the Normandy beachhead it took another eleven months of brutal combat for defeating Germany. With the secure beachhead, the Allies poured in men and materiel for winning the victory and occupying Germany. Victory in the Pacific required an additional three months of the most bloody combat faced by Americans since the Civil War.
Most Americans understood that liberating France, or occupied American territory in the Pacific, did not end the war. Victory meant invading the Axis nations, defeating their armed forces and changing their governments. Leaving the dictatorial regimes in power did not solve the problem, it merely postponed them.
When President Bush made his first post-9/11 State of the Union address he mentioned three nations as the “Axis of Evil.” He correctly called these nations, Iran, Iraq and North Korea threats for a variety of reasons. Almost immediately the Left around the world chastised him and called him a “cowboy.” The Democrat Party, looking for a political wedge for eroding Bush’s soaring popularity, joined this clamor. This clamor also included the left-leaning media and Hollywood elites, who immediately began a propaganda campaign against Bush.
The Islamofascists, and their “rogue nations” supporters, face no such internal dissensions, particularly since they embrace no democratic principles. Iran became our enemy in 1979 with the revolution that toppled Shah Reza Pahlavi, one of our best regional allies (thank you President Carter). Since that time Iran openly supported terrorist organizations that cause conflicts in the region, and killed over two hundred US Marines. Currently they arm, train and join the terrorists in Iraq, killing our soldiers. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seeks nuclear power, threatens Israel and creates regional instability through his speeches and actions.
Since Bush named the “Axis of Evil” we must add another nation, Syria, which also threatens regional stability. It supports terrorist organizations, promotes instability in Lebanon, threatens Israel and, like Iran, supports our enemies in Iraq. Former Iraqi Air Force General Georges Sada, in his book, Saddam’s Secrets, believes that Saddam Hussein sent his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into Syria.
North Korea remains at a disadvantage, despite its possession of nuclear weapons and the means for delivering them. Geographically situated on a peninsula, with a hostile relationship with its neighbor, South Korea, it possesses little room for expansion. However, as long as it continues developing WMD’s, and the means for delivering them, it increases its threat level. As long as it exports these weapons and other technology, it increases the threat posed by these “rogue nations.”
However, in the Middle East, the US possesses no useful alternative except eliminating the threats posed by Iran and Syria. Both export terror through organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah that attack Israel, giving Israel a 9/11 equivalent almost daily. Diplomacy continues failing regarding these nations, as our European “allies” openly trade with them. The UN balks at any serious actions, and our “partners,” Russia and China, veto any strong resolution.
The US, as the “lone superpower,” faces the threat almost alone, yet ignores it. Even the surviving members of the “Greatest Generation,” whose experiences offer so much, do not acknowledge the threat. History teaches us that America, however reluctantly, began preparing for war in June, 1940, eighteen months before Pearl Harbor. Today, almost seven years after 9/11, we barely acknowledge that a war exists.
We stood almost alone in 1940, with a poorly prepared military force, and prepared for the worst. Part of this military preparation included the first peacetime draft in our nation’s history. Many pundits today call peacetime draftees “reluctant soldiers at best,” and that situation prevailed in 1940. MacDonald reveals one of the restrictions on draftees included one year’s service, ending their service in September, 1941. The world situation, and military organizational problems, prompted legislation for extending that service by one year. This deeply angered the drafted men, and the acronym OHIO (Over the Hill In October) became prominently displayed on military property. For the unknowing, “over the hill” means Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL), and I found no figures revealing AWOL statistics for this time. However, after Pearl Harbor, these “reluctant soldiers” became the force that immediately confronted the Axis armies.
Following 9/11 America faced a similar military situation as it did following the Allied defeat in June, 1940. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 America began demobilizing the superb military force that guaranteed that collapse. For the next ten years the US “downsized” about forty per cent of its personnel strength. Meanwhile the world situation required the increase of deployments by about three hundred per cent. These forces proved inadequate for these “peacetime” requirements, despite the unprecedented mobilization of reserve components. We began the war against terrorism with this worn down force, and did not increase the number of personnel. Today we hear stories of the “over extending” of these forces, yet no one advocates increasing the number of troops.
At several times during this piece I mentioned casualties from certain campaigns of the war. I further mentioned that on one day, June 6, 1944, the Allies suffered almost 10,000 casualties. At least 2,500 of these occurred among the American forces involved in the Omaha Beach landings. Today the Left and the media maintains a “casualty watch,” almost gleefully reporting every American casualty. As a combat veteran I understand the value of everyone killed or wounded, and the gash it tears in the families effected. However, the casualties we suffered in almost seven years of combat, pale when considered against those suffered during World War II.
American families then mourned their losses and continued on for victory, much like the Sullivan Family. The Sullivan Family of Waterloo, Iowa lost all five of their sons during one naval battle near Guadalcanal in November, 1942. Thomas and Alleta Sullivan received an outpouring of condolences from the American public, and Americans honored their sons as the “Fighting Sullivan Brothers.” Despite the sorrow from their loss, Thomas and Alleta made several appearances at war plants and shipyards for supporting the war effort. Unfortunately I experienced a difficult time finding a website, www.arlingtoncemetery.net/sullivan-brothers.html, that told their story. As stated previously, today the media honors Cindy Sheehan, and I found her website at the top of my search.
The beachhead at D-Day represented a significant strategic advantage for the Allies; however German counterattacks tried breaching it. Victory remained elusive even following this invasion as Allied forces in Europe entered the bloody hedgerow campaign. In Italy the Allied troops continued the costly campaign in the mountains. The Soviets suffered horrendous casualties as they advanced on the Eastern Front, finally ejecting the enemy from Soviet territory.
In the Pacific Allied forces continued their bloody island-hopping campaign, drawing the noose tighter around Japan. Allied troops on the Asian mainland struggled against stiff Japanese resistance, slowly gaining ground. Achieving these gains caused severe strains on the Allied resources, and deepened strains within the alliance as well.
Despite all of the public relations efforts and “photo-ops” at the various conferences, deep divisions threatened the Allies. Most people know of the distrust between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Almost everyone knows of the rivalry between the British and Americans, particularly between the British senior field commander, General Bernard Montgomery, and Patton. De Gaulle and his Free French often proved more of a hindrance, particularly when the “Big Three,” FDR, Churchill and Stalin, snubbed him. The Chinese Nationalists and Communists continued fighting each other, which hindered operations against the Japanese. However, this “coalition of the willing” continued and ultimately defeated their enemies and brought down the enemy governments.
My fellow Americans, we faced our D-Day when we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and secured our “beachheads.” Unfortunately victory remains elusive as we seem stalemated by the irresponsible internal squabbles of our “leaders.” No easy answers exist for solving the problem of victory in this war against terrorism, despite our politicians’ rhetoric. Retreat and withdrawal, as envisioned by the Democrats, turns our D-Day into our Dunkirk, when British troops evacuated continental Europe. However, “staying the course” invokes images of the Viet Nam War and “quagmire,” and the political divisions we currently face.
In either case we appear weak and indecisive, a superpower paralyzed by a seemingly small number of people. We further enshrined this paralysis from our internal problems as well, comfortable in our arrogance and complacency. This attitude makes us believe ourselves invincible because of our limitless power versus the limitations of our enemies. We possess all of the technological advantages; therefore these enemies, lacking in modern amenities, cannot overcome this power.
Furthermore, we do not believe that our “political discourse” affects the tenacity of our enemy on the battlefield. Politics no longer stops “at the water’s edge” as it did during World War II. Thomas Fleming, in his book, The New Dealers’ War, describes the internal struggles FDR faced during the war. During the first few months of the war many Republicans criticized FDR regarding how we entered the war. However, none of them called for impeachment, accused him of treason or directly challenged his role as commander-in-chief. Nor did any “shadow government” of angry Republicans exist in our government agencies, disrupting the President’s policies.
Fleming further describes the “dark side” of FDR, who ruthlessly stifled his opposition, sometimes using questionable authority. Unlike FDR, Bush embraced his opposition with his “new tone,” and neither he nor other Republicans respond when attacked. FDR paid a price for his ruthlessness; the Democrats suffered losses in the 1942 mid-term election. Although Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress, they lacked veto-proof majorities. Unlike the Democrats today, no Republicans challenged FDR as commander-in-chief, or undermined the war effort.
Fleming mentions a good example of not undermining the commander-in-chief occurred during the 1944 presidential election cycle. The Republican candidate, New York Governor Thomas Dewey, learned that the US broke the Japanese codes before Pearl Harbor. Angry at the destruction at Pearl Harbor given this knowledge, Dewey threatened disclosing it. However, General Marshall informed Dewey of the American victories because of this, and urged his silence. Dewey placed national security and soldiers’ lives above politics and remained silent on this issue.
Instead the 1944 presidential election cycle centered on FDR’s declining health and ability for continuing his leadership of the war. I found no evidence of highlighting “war weariness,” continuing casualties or blunders concerning military operations. Nor did Dewey state his willingness in meeting enemy leaders for negotiating an end of hostilities.
Today the “loyal opposition” discloses everything they know, and their media accomplices report it. It does not matter how it affects the war effort, or the safety of our military personnel. They only care about how this information damages Bush and their other political opponents. Tragically, when these “leaks” happen neither Bush nor other Republicans express outrage at these breaches of national security.
FDR further tried building support for the war before the US entered it, warning of the dangers of the Axis Powers. Fleming cites the creation of the Office of War Information (OWI) in June, 1942 (what is it with these June anniversaries?) for managing public support of the war. Today we call these people “spin meisters,” for their ability at twisting facts for meeting their agendas.
Unfortunately agencies like the OWI prove necessary, particularly during wartime as we faced enemy propaganda masters. The most famous, Joseph Goebbels of Germany, successfully “spun” battlefield defeats into propaganda victory for maintaining public support. Such programs work best in totalitarian nations, such as the Axis nations and the Soviet Union, with no freedom of the press. In democratic societies one might liken the OWI with the commercials aired by private companies selling their products.
Our Constitution outlines the necessity of freedom of the press in our society for informing the public. The censorship of World War II did not drastically affect First Amendment rights, particularly since we still enjoy these rights today. However, the “free and independent press” today often acts as a propaganda organ for our enemies. While they routinely discredit all information from our government, they faithfully accept every word uttered by our enemies. Before the invasion of Iraq, journalist Dan Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein, treating him with more deference than his own president. Unfortunately nothing like the OWI exists today for even balancing out this negative reporting, let alone promoting “our side.”
Although I often ponder over how I would do things since 9/11, we cannot go back in time. For transforming our D-Day into victory we can only discuss where we go from our present place in time. Primarily, we need national leadership, from the President, the Congress and in those federal agencies involved in national security. Currently it seems that Bush lacks the fortitude for bringing this leadership about, even in his Cabinet. Particularly during this time of war, we cannot tolerate any “shadow government,” and the President must fire them.
The President runs the Executive Branch of government through his Cabinet and other advisors, meaning all the federal agencies. Besides the “shadow government” these federal agencies seem overflowing with those concerned mainly with their advancement. Those agencies concerned with our national security must employ only the best of people, and those with the most experience. The stakes prove too high for tolerating gross mistakes, incompetence and the bane of all government employees, careerism. Regarding the war against terrorism I believe Bush received some bad advice from complacent advisors, partly from “Clinton hold-overs.”
A good example, when the Soviet Union collapsed Iraq became the primary threat for which the Army trained. I know; I participated in this training from 1992 until I retired from active duty in 1994. Every time Saddam “rattled his sabers” we deployed a combat brigade immediately into Kuwait. Despite this fact, and our control over northern Iraq, we did not aggressively execute human intelligence missions inside Iraq. For eleven years our intelligence agencies did not emplace agents inside Iraq, or recruit sources inside Saddam’s regime.
Likewise in Afghanistan after we learned that Usama bin Laden executed his attacks against us from there during the 1990’s. The Northern Alliance, under the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud, fought the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Richard Miniter, in his book, Losing Bin Laden, describes the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) incompetent use of Massoud. Infiltrating al Qaeda required money and other assistance; the CIA did not provide it. The Northern Alliance provided regular information regarding bin Laden’s movements; the CIA did not act. Massoud determined that the CIA possessed “no interest” in getting bin Laden. Al Qaeda assassinated Massoud on September 9, 2001.
Before D-Day the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA, emplaced agents throughout France. These agents worked with the Maquis, and waged an active campaign gathering intelligence and disrupting German defenses. Despite their best efforts accurate intelligence still proved a challenge, such as the German 352nd Infantry Division at Omaha Beach. We often forget that the enemy works just as hard at deceiving us as we do at deceiving them.
By the time of D-Day the Armed Forces purged themselves of most of their incompetent field commanders, often after costly disasters. Patton, arguably our best field commander in Europe, almost purged himself from command. Eisenhower gave him his assignment in England as “probation,” however it proved its worth against the Germans. Unfortunately, during the 1990’s we purged the Armed Forces of anyone remotely resembling Patton, creating a “politically correct” Army.
Even if we possess the best warriors as our field commanders, our military still operates under civilian control. Our military strategy originates in the White House, the Pentagon advises, and then carries out this strategy. A trend began under Defense Secretary Robert McNamara when he employed legions of computer analysts, statisticians and business managers. Most of these men lacked military experience, and even thought military experience a “disadvantage” in determining strategy. H.R. McMaster, in his book, Dereliction of Duty, describes the condescending attitude these “experts” displayed toward professional military officers. They further believed that their “superior education” made them better decision-makers than professional officers with combat experience. We lost the war managed by these people, and micro-managed by the ultimate statistician, McNamara.
Unfortunately such trends continue today regarding the civilians that run the Pentagon. I researched the Defense Department’s websites and found of the thirteen highest civilians only six mentioned military experience in their biographies. Historically many of our service secretaries lacked military experience such as President Abraham Lincoln’s two secretaries of war, Simon Cameron and Edwin Stanton. However, I believe military experience proves essential for someone serving as a service secretary, given the serious nature of the job. Would a president appoint a federal judge with no legal experience, or a surgeon general with no medical experience?
I hoped for the appointment of former General H. Norman Schwarzkopf as Secretary of Defense, the commander of Operation Desert Storm. Maybe Bush offered him the job and he declined it, I do not know. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not impress me, nor did he when he served in the position previously. He seemed more interested in his “transformation” program than with winning the war, proposing more cuts for a drastically reduced military force.
Of course I do not know what advice Rumsfeld received from the bureaucrats who really run the Pentagon. Bureaucrats often do things based on how it affects their careers, and improves their “power base.” If someone changes the plans it might reduce their influence, or even eliminate their job. Besides, with all of the statistics and “Power Point” briefings, their plans seem infallible.
Certainly even someone with no military experience realizes we need a dramatic increase in our personnel strength. This proves particularly true for the Army, which suffered the most under “downsizing,” losing about 286,000 personnel. The Army primarily wages the nation’s ground wars, which requires the largest number of people, for both combat and support troops. Despite today’s rhetoric the war against terrorism remains primarily a ground war, where our forces engage the terrorists in ground combat.
When the Allies defeated Germany the US alone possessed over one million troops in Europe. Today the US possesses 1.4 million personnel on active duty and 1.3 million in the reserve components. While this seems a large number it proved insufficient for meeting all of its global missions. Current military doctrine states that victory requires a three-to-one ratio of attacker-to-defender, at the front line. Defeating a guerrilla force, such as terrorists, requires a ten-to-one ratio of us-to-them. Sustained warfare requires a substantial depth of operations that extend far behind the battlefront.
During World War II the records reveal that it took seven support soldiers for supporting every combat soldier. MacDonald states that this proved one of the flaws in pre-war planning, under estimating the number of support units needed. This support begins stateside with the recruiting and training base for producing qualified and trained personnel. It then extends across the globe in lines of communication for providing a steady supply of men and materiel. Defending this line of communication requires significant numbers of troops, particularly air and naval forces.
Traditionally, once soldiers deployed overseas during World War II they remained overseas for the “duration plus six months.” This did not mean that the troops remained in constant combat operations; everyone understood that they needed periodic rest. Particularly after a bloody operation like D-Day, the assault units needed time for rest and refit.
The Allies assaulted the beaches of Normandy with about 170,000 troops; however, this represented just the “tip” of the “spearhead.” As stated previously, follow-on forces began landing once the assault units secured the beaches. These fresh troops “relieved in place” the troops on the front and continued the momentum of operations. Unlike today, no D-Day planners believed these 170,000 troops capable of securing the beachhead and liberating France. When the D-Day plan went awry Eisenhower did not appear before a partisan congressional committee in Washington, DC.
During World War II Republicans in Congress did criticize FDR’s “home front” policies regarding the war. This involved the growing bureaucracies for managing the war, graft and corruption within these agencies and the political use of the OWI. However, I found no evidence of delaying war funding, partisan electioneering in foreign countries or “shadow governments.”
Congress, as the representatives of the people, plays a vital role in the military operations of the country. This includes authorizing operations, such as formal declaration of war, or “conditional” declarations, such as the resolutions since World War II. In the aftermath of 9/11 Congress overwhelmingly passed a joint resolution (S.J. Res. 23) authorizing the use of force:
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determined planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
While most members of Congress supported this effort at defeating those who attacked us, others cynically postured for political gain. Following the unanticipated victory in Afghanistan some of this “war fever” died out as the Democrats lamented the rising popularity of Bush. Many of them, responsible for the “downsizing” of our military and intelligence capabilities in the 1990’s, tried blaming Bush for military shortfalls.
The Congress further approved military action against the continuing threat of Iraq with S.J. Res. 45, on October 2, 2002. This document cited Saddam’s violations of UN resolutions beginning with the first Gulf War in 1990-1. It further stipulated the violations of seventeen separate resolutions since the first war ended, including continuing Iraqi hostility. Cynically, many Democrats tried delaying the vote until after the mid-term elections that November. I believe they hoped that the security of employment for another two years allowed them a “safety net” for criticizing Bush. For once the Republicans stood up and demanded a vote, forcing a hard choice for the Democrats, and the resolution passed.
Congress further possesses the constitutional power for raising and supporting our armed forces and appropriating the necessary funding. Since the war against terrorism began Democrats in Congress almost continuously berate Bush for military shortages. Ironically, they initiated most of those shortages through the irresponsible “downsizing” of the 1990’s, and offer no solutions. Tragically, the “Bush Administration” does very little for reversing these shortages and maintains the inadequate structures of the 1990’s.
Since Congress controls the military “purse strings” why not increase the funding if they feel the current amount inadequate. Divert funding from their “earmarks,” or their “pet” domestic programs for ensuring that our troops receive the proper support. Truthfully, Congress does not take money from these programs because that does not translate into constituent votes, and ensure reelection.
The Republican leaders in Congress do not confront their Democrat “colleagues” regarding their demagoguery, particularly regarding military funding. Neither does Bush “hold their feet to the fire,” making them perform their duty of providing for the common defense.” Our Constitution tasks the federal government with the primary responsibility for providing for the nation’s defense. However, the federal government seems more interested in prioritizing health care, education and other things not mentioned in the Constitution.
Congress maintains oversight of the Armed Forces through the armed services committees of both houses. However, the majority of the people on these committees lack military experience themselves, and use it as a political “stepping stone.” I researched the websites of all members of Congress sitting on these committees and grew disappointed with the results. Of 62 members on the House committee only 15 mentioned military service in their biographies. Two others mentioned spouses with military experience and one member posted no biography on his site. The Senate committee boasted 25 members with only 9 mentioning military service in their biographies and one mentioned a spouse with military experience.
Neither committee chairman mentioned military service, while both ranking members served during the Viet Nam War. While military service does not guarantee expertise in military affairs, neither does serving as a “political hack.” When I watch these “distinguished members” grilling military commanders I grow increasingly agitated. These “hacks” sit in judgment of these officers with smug looks on their faces and condescending words spoken from their mouths. Maybe if more of these people served in the military, and experienced the hardships, they might better execute their responsibilities.
Political ramifications dominate so much of today’s society that it often paralyzes our nation. No one ever mentions that D-Day occurred in a presidential election year, nor did the “loyal opposition” use it for seeking advantage. Many opportunities existed for using it, if any candidate proved eager for exploiting it, and possibly affecting public morale. The blunders, the high casualties and the irresponsibility of launching it under marginal weather conditions provided ample “political fodder.”
As stated previously, in World War II politics stopped “at the water’s edge,” and FDR won an unprecedented fourth term. While Democrats and Republicans bickered over domestic issues, they differed very little regarding foreign policy and conduct of the war. Individual Americans vehemently differed over many issues, such as racial policies, but they united for defeating the enemy. No sacrifice proved too great for supporting “our boys,” who gave their lives in defense of their country.
Today it seems that nothing transcends politics, personal aggrandizement or takes priority over our creature comforts. We further sacrifice our history, revising it for fitting in with our “politically correct” society. As June turned into July, and we celebrate our independence as a nation, must we also sacrifice that history? Past generations paid a high price for the freedoms and opportunities we take for granted today. None of them sought these hardships, however they met the challenges of their generation, and we must meet ours today.
American troops fought their way ashore on Omaha Beach at a very high price. Behind them millions of Americans, both military and civilian, applauded them and sustained them until they won victory. Today American forces toppled the oppressive regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, liberating millions of people. Behind them millions of Americans applaud them and support them, although you rarely hear of it.
The Islamofascists present a threat of at least equal proportions with the Axis nations of World War II. Almost every source that speaks of this threat states the goal of enforcing a caliphate on the Western democracies. One need only look at the media footage from Afghanistan where the Taliban publicly executed those who violated their Islamic laws. Look at the footage of terrorists detonating bombs against mostly innocent civilians as they seek dominance over these people.
The Americans today who feel their Constitutional rights violated by the “Patriot Act” do not understand true oppression. Those who denounce our soldiers for “atrocities” against the captured terrorists never witnessed true atrocity. Others who claim that the “Bush Administration” concocted the war against terrorism do not comprehend the threat. “Experts” who claim that we must appease the terrorists never faced the threat, or suffered at their hands. Unfortunately we give too many Americans with too little knowledge and experience too much power in our society.
That power immobilized our response against the enemies that threaten our existence as a nation. Transforming our D-Day into victory requires that we replace the current governments in Iran and Syria. How we accomplish this remains the problem, as our internal political squabbles effectively paralyzed our actions. We receive no leadership from Washington, DC, who we pay quite handsomely for leading us. Disturbingly, we seem rooted in a flawed plan for using “minimal force” and making the “smallest footprint” on our enemies.
As World War II confirmed, defeating our enemies requires the application of our full national effort. Victory requires that we “pay any price” and “bear any burden,” as President John F. Kennedy stated in his inaugural address. Unfortunately today, we face the real possibility of defeat and the demise of our civilization.
Waiting for permission from the UN and our European “allies” allows more time for Iran’s nuclear development. Not building sufficient military strength for this inevitable war demonstrates insanity on the part of the US and other Western democracies. The complacency of our leaders in ignoring the threat represents a total dereliction of duty. Their deliberate campaign in blaming their own nation and demonizing their soldiers borders on treason.
D-Day represents a significant victory for American and Allied troops during World War II. Remembering it, and the blood, sweat and sacrifice that made it possible remain important for today’s Americans. The Axis Powers did not make victory easy, they mobilized their nations’ resources as well. They employed every strategy for avoiding defeat, and discouraging the Allies into negotiations, such as the famed “Battle of the Bulge.” The Japanese employed kamikaze, or suicide pilots, against American forces beginning with the Philippine liberation in early 1945. However, nothing deterred those Americans from final victory, and the defeat of their enemies.
We proved many times since 9/11 that we forgot the sacrifices made by the “Greatest Generation,” and the lessons they learned. Those responsible for reminding us of those past lessons and enlightening us regarding today’s threat willfully shirk their responsibilities. Instead they support our defeat, champion our enemies and demonize those who defend us. I only hope that our mistakes today do not squander the freedoms and opportunities for future generations of Americans. Because if the Islamofascists defeat us, no benevolent nation awaits for rescuing us from their terror.