June 6 should be a day of reflection
The publication date of this column — June 6 — is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the long-awaited Allied invasion of Normandy that opened a second front in World War II against Germany in northern Europe.
Americans naturally celebrate it as the beginning of the end of the war, and that makes sense. Without a coastal invasion, the war would have dragged on for an indeterminate length of agonizing bloodshed.
D-Day, and the surrender of Germany 11 months later, enabled the U.S. and its allies to turn their attention exclusively to the Japanese enemy, and therefore to bring the war in the Pacific to a victorious close as well.
The European war would have proved victorious for the Allies eventually.
Stanford historian David M. Kennedy, author of the Oxford History of the United States volume “Freedom from Fear,” which covers the period 1929 to 1945, notes that Germany by 1944 was exhausted, bled white on the Eastern Front and devastated internally by the Anglo-American bombing campaign.
But Germany was successfully developing its V-1 and V-2 aerial weapons that could have unleashed savage destruction on Britain had time permitted the Nazis to do so.
Time was on the Allies’ side in the long run, but at a terrible cost.
So the cost was paid on D-Day.
Much detailed history has been written about the actual invasion. The British, who landed at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches, encountered moderate resistance but were able to control their beach swaths in relatively short order.
The U.S. 4th Division, which landed at Utah Beach to the west of the British, was highly successful.
The German 709th Division was waiting in the low dunes behind the waterline, and proved no match for the American G.I.s, who promptly moved ahead to join up with U.S. paratroopers inland. Only 197 of the 23,000 put ashore there were casualties.
But as the movies, news accounts and histories tell us, the 1st Division at Omaha Beach sacrificed greatly.
The landing there narrowly escaped total disaster, and casualties were appalling. But by nightfall on June 6, more than 100,000 men were ashore, strengthened by some of the follow-up 29th Division.
The beachheads enabled the Allies to pour immense supplies of troops and equipment into France and eventually on to Germany and surrender.
D-Day was significant to many people. A few of the most grateful:
• The Soviets, who had insisted for years that the Allies open a second front to relieve the enormous pressure Germany was putting on Russia.
Twenty million Russians died in World War II.
• The French, who had suffered under the heel of the Germans (the “Bosch”) for nearly four years.
• The European Jews, most of whom were either dead or in concentration camps, awaiting their turn.
• And finally, the Americans, who saw the invasion as the light at the end of the long wartime tunnel.
It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t flawless.
But D-Day was an heroic act of courage by thousands of men, many of whom still lie in European cemeteries.
It should be a day of reflection for all of us.