D-Day should never be forgotten
Last week I was disappointed at the small amount of coverage for the anniversary of the Normandy landing.
To me, D-Day is an important event to remember so as to understand, at some level, the sheer scale and determination of the allied troops landing along this deadly beachfront property in France.
It seems an important lesson as we endure this divisive moment in American politics to remember a time when tremendous sacrifices were made and differences were put aside for the greater good.
As time has passed, it seems one of the things many in the United States have forgotten or perhaps don’t even know is the sheer magnitude of World War II and the Allied invasion of Europe at Normandy in particular.
No death in battle is insignificant and the losses we have suffered in war since then have all been tragic, but the sheer number of casualties — or should I say deaths — during World War II probably seems inconceivable to us today.
The service-related killed in action count for the largest military operation of the United States between World War II and today was the Vietnam conflict which saw more than 58,000 deaths over the eight-year course of the war.
During World War II, the United States suffered 416,000 deaths in the 3 years and 8 months of combat. Germany lost more than 5 million troops and Japan more than 2 million.
Official estimates for casualties during the conflict are 15 million military dead from various countries around the world and 45 million civilian deaths.
The landing at Normandy was the largest seaborne invasion in history, involving 7,000 ships with 1,900 Allied bombing aircraft dropping 7 million pounds of bombs on a single day.
British sources estimated more than 10,000 combat aircraft flew 15,000 missions on that day and lost 113 planes, many in the process of dropping 24,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines.
More than 150,000 Allied troops were delivered to the beaches on that day and in some places during the first hour of combat the chances of becoming a casualty was 50-50.
It’s been estimated that nearly 2 million servicemen, between soldiers sailors and airmen were involved in the operation and to support the landing the United States shipped 7 million tons of supplies, of which 448,000 tons (896 million pounds) was reported to be ammunition.
On Omaha Beach, with a majority of American troops, it was reported 4,000 men were killed or wounded with one American unit in the first wave losing 90 percent of its men.
Only 15 percent of the 24,000 paratroopers reportedly were dropped in the right location.
In the midst of this treacherous battle are moments of the fantastic: The British commando brigade contained a bagpiper, who walked up and down the beach playing “Hieland Laddie” during the first part of the battle. The BBC reported that German prisoners admitted that they did not shoot him because they thought he had lost his mind. He had not.
Further up the beach in Charlie sector, 225 American Rangers began to climb the hundred-foot cliffs of the fortified German position, Pointe du Hoc.
As enemy fire rained down upon them, many of the Rangers found the ropes they were trying to use to be ineffective and began to use their bayonets to climb the cliffs.
The Rangers took the position and when relieved two days later, of the 225, only 90 had not been wounded or killed.
For all of this, a Private First Class earned around $600 per year after deductions and they were hardly supermen, although many acted like they were. The average army recruit was 5-feet, 8-inches tall and weighed 144 pounds.
But that was pretty respectable considering that to serve in the military you had to be at least 5 feet tall, weigh 105 pounds and have at least half of your teeth.
And recruits were needed, because prior to the beginning of World War II we had an army smaller than Portugal at 188,000 men. By 1945 the Army had 8.3 million soldiers.
So when I see a week like the last one, where politicians tear at the fabric of the country because they don’t like the election results or want some TV time, I can’t help but wonder what the Rangers of Pointe du Hoc would feel watching the news today. I know what some politicians should feel: shame.