Seventy-seven years ago, June 6, 1944, thousands of America’s Greatest Generation, most between the ages of 18-30, crossed the English Channel in darkness and jumped into the night sky over Normandy, France. In the dark of night, two American and one British airborne division jumped from C-47 transports and gliders and into history. Hitler had boasted that no army would ever pierce the Atlantic Wall. That faithful night and the following day, 156,000 young men from America, England, and Canada proved him very wrong. The invasion was the largest airborne and amphibious 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 156,000 troops began to leave England’s ports for the trip across the English Channel to Normandy, France.
That night, 822 aircraft filled the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions and the British 6th Airborne Division parachuted into the dark of night behind the Normandy beaches. By dawn on June 6, 18,000 paratroopers were on the ground fighting to stop German reinforcement from reaching the beaches.
On Omaha Beach alone, 4,000 young American soldiers were casualties. 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 — Americans, British and Canadians — were successfully ashore in Normandy.
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, and paraphrased here: “My fellow Americans, last night, when I spoke, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the English Channel in a great 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; 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. Some of those that assaulted the beaches at Normandy and those that jumped into history with the airborne divisions were from Delaware County.
Don Wilson from Ostrander jumped into the dark night sky of France as a soldier with the 101st Airborne Division. Marvin Ramsey was injured on Omaha Beach by German machine gun fire. I apologize for not knowing all from the Greatest Generation from Delaware County that fought on D-Day. I am sure there were more, and I offer my deep appreciation for their service as well.
Every Memorial Day, remember the devotion, valor, dedication, and selfless service of all who have served in America’s wars and conflicts: Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Cold War are all brothers in arms to the Greatest Generation. Never forget their sacrifices.
Regrettably, too many of the young men and women who served in these conflicts gave their all and are buried in the fertile soils of France, England, Luxemburg, Holland, Belgium, Korea, Arlington, and in their hometowns. If you know any who have served, thank them for helping to keep us free every day.
Christopher Acker is a retired Army officer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Professional Aeronautics and a MBA from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and 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.