At this precise moment 75 years ago – 9 hours ahead of Pacific time – the first amphibious landings started at Normandy.
By dawn on June 6, thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches code named Gold, Juno and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach. U.S. forces faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.
He’s been gone about 20 years, but I still remember him stopping by my late father’s office every Wednesday at 1200 for lunch, in that big 70s Lincoln.
I can’t remember him without a smile and some pleasantries when he arrived. Never knew him by anything other than his nickname, which was Dusty. Outside of his family, I doubt that anyone else did, either.
He and my father would then head off for restaurants unknown. They were 2 Army veterans of that era. Neither talked much about those times.
He was wounded in that war and recuperated in a British hospital. As he was recuperating, there was an Army nurse at his side.
And from that time for over 50 years that nurse never left his side.
One Thanksgiving they invited us to their home. I had to decline, having a prior invitation.
It is a dinner I have regretted missing for 20 years. My parents told me that after dinner over desert and wine, the conversation got serious. After all those years, he opened up for the first time and talked about his day on that beach 75 years ago.
Since I wasn’t there, all I have are the few things I was told afterwards.
He was in the second wave.
What he remembered most that day were the drownings. Not all of the Higgins Boats could get to the shoreline. If the feet couldn’t find the bottom with all of the equipment carried – 90 lbs in some cases – you were in big trouble.
And you couldn’t stop to help them.
You were trying to stay alive and get ashore. He watched his best friend drown.
When my mother asked him if he was worried about dying, he replied that “you never think it will be you“.
Allied victory wasn’t certain that day. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, gave it 50% odds of success *. Eisenhower had an alternative letter ready in the event of failure.
Winston Churchill went to bed that evening worried that by next morning, he would learn that 20,000 were killed. That was the number of British killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He also remembered the Dieppe Raid just 2 years earlier. After 6 hours and 60% casualties, the British were forced to withdraw.
(Then) Lt. General Omar Bradley was very close to ordering a withdrawal at Omaha.
“…by mid-day on June 6, caused Gen. Omar Bradley, a competent and “unflappable” commander, to fear that his 29th and 1st Divisions had “suffered an irreversible catastrophe.” He came within an inch of ordering withdrawal of the Omaha force — representing the main bulk of the American D-Day effort.”
“…The beaches of Omaha were a real trap for the troops of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions. The first assault wave was brutally cut down, while the second left the beach strewn with the wounded, the dead and broken equipment.”
I’ve always kept to a rule of not using people’s names in my posts unless I have their permission, but in this case I’ll make an exception. They’re both long gone now.
He left us shortly after that dinner and she left soon after. I think too of the anonymous thousands who have already left us, taking their own stories of that day with them.
They deserve more than to be forgotten.
They were Dusty and Doris Miller.
* The Secret of D-Day, by Gilles Perrault. (1965 – out of print).