Wednesday, June 06, 2007

This week in history

As John notes, today is a very important day in military history. (many thanks too to Rev. Jim, who sent out an email reminding us of this important day)

The Battle of Midway was in full swing, lasting from June 4 through June 7, 1942. It was on this day, over 60 years ago, that the USS Hammann was hit and sunk by a Japanese torpedo, and the Yorktown was fatally hit by a Japanese submarine, although it didn't go under until the 7th. The US Navy hit the Japs hard that day, sinking the cruiser Mikuma and heavily damaging another cruiser, the Mogami, plus two destroyers, the Asashio and the Arashio. The bloody battle of Midway was finally declared over.

Exactly two years later, June 6, 1944... Allied forces stormed Normandy on what is now known as D-Day. Utah Beach was less deadly for the Americans than Omaha beach- we "only" lost 257 at Utah (60 missing; 197 dead). Omaha Beach ended with 3,000 US losses and 1,000 "officially" dead. Nearly half of the US losses on D-Day occured at Omaha Beach, earning it the nickname "Bloody Omaha". There is no "official" casualty figure for D-Day, but it is estimated that 10,000 Allied troops were lost that day, including 2,500 dead. The US lost over 9% of the men they landed on D-Day across all of Normandy.

Those who fought at Bloody Omaha won that beachhead with blood, sweat, tears, courage and faith. Within 10 minutes of the initial landing, every officer and NCO in the 1st Infantry Division was dead or wounded, leaving the ordinary Soldier to complete the mission. They climbed the cliffs of Normandy, and eventually overtook the enemy. By the end of the first day, only about 2,000 yards of Omaha Beach had been secured, but it was enough to allow Allied forces to unload the vehicles, manpower, and equipment necessary to complete, and accomplish, their mission.

By the end of that first day, the Americans were solidly planted at Utah, but the Battle of Normandy wasn't over yet. Officially, it didn't end until June 30. The Allies experienced success at Utah Beach due in part to the following:
- the attack occured at low tide, rendering anti-landing craft measures useless
- Army engineers were already in place, busy building and completing the Allied Road between Utah Beach and Saint Martin de Varreville
- precise and effective US Navy bombing, both from ships and planes
- landing 1800 meters south of their intended target, the artillery at Crisbecq and Azeville couldn't reach them

US forces from Utah Beach were able to join up with those who had survived Omaha Beach a week later, following the liberation of Carentan and the silencing of the guns at Crisbecq. Paris was finally liberated on August 25, a little more than 11 weeks later. The Germans were retreating, but it took another 9 months to offically end World War II. It is important to note that storming Normandy was the beginning of the end... and the end started today, 63 years ago.

My grandfather was there, but he won't talk about it.

He was a Navy Corpsman. He must have been so young- maybe 19 or 20 at the time. What a terrible thing to have experienced at such a young age. I have no doubt that's why he won't talk about D-Day. Heck, we didn't even know he was there until he casually mentioned it to Mom two years ago. She was talking about teaching kids about WWII and Normandy, when he turned away from her and just simply said, "yes, I know all about it. I was there, Bonnie." The conversation stopped, Mom knowing that he couldn't talk about it even after more than 60 years. Mom has given him a tape recorder, and asked him to put his thoughts on the tape at his convenience, in private, where we can't see his tears or anguish. I hope he does, because I don't want to lose that part of my family's history.

They've been called "The Greatest Generation", and we're losing them at staggering rates- around 1,500 a day. 16 million Americans served during World War II; more than 400,000 died. It is estimated that only 3 million are still alive today. We can't let their stories go to the grave with them. Please encourage all war veterans- no matter which war (or wars) they fought in, to put their memories to paper or tape.

And if you see a veteran today.... thank them for their service.


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