By Jeff Mullin, commentary
The fate of much of the world hung in the balance as the clock struck midnight, ushering in June 6, 1944.
Hitler’s Nazi forces maintained an iron grip on much of Europe and were systematically conducting their wholesale murder of Jews and others they deemed unworthy of life.
The Germans already had made the fatal mistake of invading mother Russia and had suffered great losses, but Joseph Stalin continued to call for a second front.
The operation was dubbed “Overlord,” and originally was planned for either June 4 or 5, but poor weather forced postponement until June 6, dubbed D-Day.
The D, incidentally, stands for nothing. It is simply a military designation for the day an operation is to begin. But throughout history there will forever remain only one true D-Day.
“You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months,” Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in a letter to the U.S. Army on the eve of D-Day. “The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe and security for ourselves in a free world.”
The destruction would come later, as would the elimination of Nazi tyranny. First would come the dying.
And there was plenty of it, on both sides.
On the beaches of Normandy that June morning it was like someone left the door to Hell ajar.
Those who have seen the first 15 minutes of the film “Saving Private Ryan” have some sense of what it was like that day. But it’s a bit like watching a film about childbirth. You intellectually can understand the experience, but unless you go through it yourself you have no idea.
The air was filled with the sounds of explosions, the rattle of gunfire and the cries of dying men.
These were ordinary men — shopkeepers, bakers, insurance salesman, students, teachers, mechanics, plumbers and the like — men far from their homes, far from their families, fighting not so much for liberty or democracy but for mere survival.
Survival was the order of the day. Survive and advance, one bloody foot at a time.
By the end of the day some 6,603 Americans were killed, wounded or missing in action. But a foothold had been established.
June 6, 1944, was the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. Many more good men would die in the next 11 months until the Nazi forces were well and truly vanquished, but the men who gave their lives on D-Day paved the way for victory.
The men who helped change the world June 6, 1944, all are elderly. Time has left them gray, stooped and subject to the infirmities of age. But on that day, the pivotal day in the course of the war in Europe, they stood tall and strong in the face of the enemy.
The world is different now. Our enemies have become our friends, and former allies are now held at arm’s length. Today’s enemy is not a power-hungry nation, but a perversion of an ancient religion. We still are striving for that security about which Eisenhower wrote.
We can only pray there is never a need for another D-Day. But if there is, then, we can only pray we as a nation can live up to the standard of courage and self-sacrifice established by those brave souls who found themselves on the sands of Normandy June 6, 1944.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle.