The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 5, 2014

Normandy’s peaceful beaches helped turn the tide of war

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Today, the relentless waves will wash ashore on the beaches of the former Duchy of Normandy, as they have for eons.

They lap at the sand unceasingly, the sound peaceful, soothing.

It has always been so, save for one fateful day.

That day the waves ran red with the blood of valiant men.

They were young men, mostly, from places like New York and Omaha, Liverpool and London, Toronto and Vancouver.

Most weren’t soldiers, not really. Instead they were shopkeepers, teachers, salesmen, carpenters, clerks, cab drivers, writers, waiters, dry cleaners, printers and the like.

All wore uniforms and carried guns, but not because they wanted to. They would have preferred to be at home living their ordinary lives, doing their ordinary jobs, loving their families, paying their bills and leaving the hero business to someone else.

But they couldn’t and they knew that. There was evil afoot in the world, evil that threatened to usurp the freedoms of people not so different than themselves, and that evil needed to be stopped.

So they took off their coveralls, their aprons, their business suits, their wing tips, their artist smocks, whatever day-to-day duds they sported in their ordinary lives, to wear their country’s colors.

They didn’t like the military, not really. The food was lousy, they had to get up too early in the morning and then there were all those 20-mile hikes in full battle gear. Everybody griped, everybody complained, every man Jack shared the same sense of misery, the same sense of camaraderie, the same sense of pride.

They shipped out, after a time, bound for England. Something was coming, they knew, something big.

In their free time they shared a cigarette, a laugh, a drink and perhaps something else with pretty English girls. The rest of the time they trained, and waited. They climbed down rope ladders from troop ships into landing crafts, then ran ashore, running, shooting, dropping to the sand, then getting up and running some more. They knew something was coming, something big.

Others strapped parachutes onto their backs, loaded down with weapons and battle gear, and climbed into C-47s jumping out over the English countryside. Then they did it again, and again. They would be the first wave, the ones that would hit the enemy from behind. They knew something was coming, something big.

One day in early June they climbed into troop ships once again, only this time they didn’t take a short trip to the English coast. They knew something was coming, something big.

Along the way someone turned on a radio and there was the voice of the old man, Ike, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. In solemn tones he called the endeavor a great crusade, said the prayers of liberty-loving people were with them and sounded a warning, “Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.”

Then he said “The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory.”

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, the some 160,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers assembled in their landing craft, and set forth for the beaches of France.

Many were seasick, most, if not all, were scared.

They had good reason to be. German machine gun placements, on the cliffs high above the beaches, were waiting for them.

Some landing craft never reached the beaches, instead floundering in the surf. Some men drowned before they could even fire a shot.

Others were cut down as soon as their feet hit the sand, or were blown apart by artillery or mines.

On that day death came to the quiet, peaceful beaches of Normandy, and he came with a vengeance.

But they kept coming, these sons of tiny American towns, small English villages and Canadian hamlets. They crawled over the bodies of their fallen buddies, but they did not stop. The Germans were giving it to them, and good, but they were giving it back to them.

They fought their way across the beaches, then headed for the high ground, their goal to silence the relentless enemy guns.

After a time those terrible guns fell silent. The German defenders were driven back, the allies had a foothold in France.

There is still a question exactly how many men died that day, when the gentle waves lapping the beaches of Normandy were stained with the blood of the fallen. Thousands of telegrams went out that day or the next, “I deeply regret to inform you ...” most began, the rest was blurred by the tears of the recipient.

We remember them today, 70 years on from the largest amphibious invasion in history. Those who survived are in their 90s now, or are knocking at the door, their stooped frames and shuffling strides far more suited for wading in the gentle Normandy surf than dodging enemy fire.

They knew something was coming, something big. That day changed the tide of the war. In less than a year Hitler was dead, Germany vanquished.

These ordinary men saved the world. We owe them our unending gratitude.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.