Seventy-six years ago, on June 6, 1944, thousands of America’s Greatest Generation crossed the English Channel during the hours of darkness and jumped into the ink black night sky over Normandy, France.
In the dark of night, two American and one British Airborne divisions jumped from C-47 transports and into history. Hitler has boasted that no Army would ever pierce the Atlantic Wall. That faithful night, and the following day, 176,000 young men from America, England and Canada proved him very wrong.
The invasion was the largest airborne and amphibious military assault in history. The operation commenced on the morning of June 5, 1944, when Gen. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe, gave the go-ahead for the invasion. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships, and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops began to leave England’s ports for the trip across the English Channel to France.
That night, 822 aircraft deployed troops from the American 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions and the British 6th Airborne Division into drop zones behind the Normandy beaches. By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were on the ground fighting to stop German reinforcement from reaching the beaches.
On Omaha Beach alone, 4,000 American soldiers would die that faithful day. It was only through the tenacity and quick-thinking of the junior officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers on the ground, that the objective was achieved. Simultaneous with the assault on the beaches, U.S. Army Rangers scaled the impregnable heights of Pointe du Hoc, under fire, to destroy German artillery aimed at both Omaha and Utah beaches. By day’s end, 155,000 Allied troops were successfully ashore.
On the morning of June 6, President Roosevelt addressed the nation over national radio. I often think of how those who espouse political correctness and the word God in government today would judge Roosevelt’s speech to the nation that morning.
His address to the nation included, in part, the following: “My fellow Americans, last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the English Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far. And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.
“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph. Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”
All over America, drivers listening on car radios stopped in the streets, got out, kneeled and began to pray for the soldiers on the beaches and the paratroopers behind the lines.
The war would last another 10 months in Europe. But the devotion, valor, dedication and selfless service of our Greatest Generation must never be forgotten. For them, they knew the only road back to their homes in America lead through Berlin. They made it to Berlin and returned home to their families and rebuilt the world.
Regrettably, too many of those young men of the Greatest Generation gave their all and are buried in the fertile soils of France, England, Luxemburg, Holland, Belgium and Arlington. We will never forget them or their sacrifice. There are very few alive today. If you know one, thank him for helping save our nation and all of Europe.
Christopher Acker is a Delaware resident and a retired Army colonel. He holds an MBA from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, a master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the Army War College. He attended the Army’s Command and General Staff College, the NATO Staff School, and served multiple tours in the Pentagon on both the Army and Joint Staffs.