June 5: The Beginning Of The Longest Day
In the late hours of June 5, 1944 men parachuted into occupied France. They were Pathfinders, specially trained and equipped paratroopers whose job it would be to guide in an air armada.
Then came the thousands of American, British, and Canadian parachute and glider troops, jumping from low flying aircraft or silently landing in flimsy canvas and plywood gliders in the dark, not able to clearly determine where they would land. Units were scattered due to navigation problems they quickly formed ad-hoc units and took the fight to the Nazis using personal initiative and moving to the sound of gunfire.
Then came the main act… tens of thousands of Allied soldiers wading, and in some cases trying to swim, to open beaches. Beaches whose every square inch was covered by aimed, predetermined fields of fire the defending German forces had prepared months in advance. Literally as soon as the ramps fell men died, yet those behind them pressed forward despite having just watched the men in front of them cut down.
Through water that was red from blood, men charged forward, across the open killing ground seeking any form of cover from a man-made obstacle to a two inch deep hollow to try to avoid the fire.
Again ad-hoc units were formed and they moved forward to accomplish missions. Privates became squad leaders, sergeants became company commanders, shave tail lieutenants became battalion commanders. Absolute fear was the common factor among them all, but they pushed it to the back of their minds and pressed onward.
At Point Du Hoc the Rangers landed at the base of 100 foot cliffs and while taking heavy casualties scaled those cliffs to accomplish what was briefed as a mission vital to the survival of the Allied troops and ships only to discover their objective was empty. Telephone poles in place of the guns reported to be there.
On this day, the movie “The Longest Day” should be mandatory viewing in our schools to give them a small idea of why their great and great-great-grandfathers are deserving of the title The Greatest Generation.
As a veteran I take every opportunity to render a hand salute to my brothers still with us. And I stand solemnly at attention, salute and unashamedly shed tears at the sound of Taps as we honor those that paid the ultimate price for our liberty.