June 6, 1944 – Normandy, France: Five years into the hell of World War II. Around 6:00 am.
Imagine for a moment that you are between 18 and 25 years old taking part in one of the largest and most vicious military attacks in the history of the world. You are about to jump out of a landing boat into freezing ocean beach water only to face a wall of machine gun bullets. Or, you are about to jump out of an airplane into the darkness of night into sniper-infested, enemy territory. Scared? You bet your ass you’re scared.
Freedom isn’t Free…the saying goes.
As a champion and appreciator of freedom, one of the things I think about sometimes is whether or not free people really understand what it took to rid the world of an imperial evil monster like the power-hungry killer and Nazi Leader, Adolf Hitler. The ultimate sacrifice, made by millions of soldiers, yes…millions… seem to become incomprehensible as the decades wear on. Fact is, tens of millions gave their lives during WWII to free the world of tyranny.
Published estimates of WWII military dead hover around 22 million soldiers with my two beloved countries taking a real hit. The United States of America lost 407,000 soldiers during that war. Canada, a much smaller country, lost 45,400 soldiers. “Freedom isn’t free”, as the saying goes.
The Battle of Normandy
One of the milestone battles of WWII, The Battle of Normandy, (also known as Operation Overlord) lasted from June 1944 to August 1944. By all accounts, it was 90 days of pure, miserable, combat hell for the 156,000 Americans, Canadians and British troops who landed on the 50-mile stretch of France’s Normandy region. By the end of the first day, a day known as D-Day, more than 130,000 soldiers had made it onshore fighting their way towards liberating French citizens and their communities from the notorious Nazis. Click here for an excellent Q&A summary of the invasion from the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, England.
The First 24-Hours of the Invasion…Hell on Earth.
The size of the invasion was truly enormous. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his letter to the brave Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full Victory.”
More than 7,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion. Within the first 24 hours, the Allies had gained a foot-hold in Normandy. The first day’s cost was extreme as more than 10,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded — but more than 130,000 Allied Soldiers penetrated the enemy wall on that fateful day.
So began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler and his Nazis. Within three weeks thereafter, 850,000 men and 148,000 vehicles had landed on the five beaches of Normandy. Try to let these numbers sink in folks…almost a million men storming the Normandy beaches of Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword.
Surviving D-Day at Omaha Beach.
Americans incurred 3,881 casualties on Omaha beach during the first 24 hours of the invasion. Canadians invaded nearby Juno Beach and had 1,204 casualties. The British, who landed on Sword and Gold Beaches, suffered 1,043 casualties on that first day of the invasion. Herego, the saying…”Freedom isn’t Free.”
Click here for additional detail on D-Day casualties. May they all forever RIP.
Discovery Channel has done a great job reconstructing and capturing the brutal devastation of D-Day. Click here to view Discovery Channel’s documentary, “Surviving D-Day at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.”
GI Killing Machines – The MG42 Machine Guns.
Estimates indicate that there were 20,000 German Nazis waiting on the beaches in heavily fortified concrete bunkers ready to defend their newly occupied territory. Many were equipped with upgraded MG42s, a human cutting machine gun capable of firing 1,200 to 1,500 bullets per minute. That’s 25 rounds per second each travelling at 2,000 mph. Picture this: Despite a continuous spray of bullets from this Hitler buzzsaw, our soldiers attacked, attacked and attacked some more. Thousands were mowed down like grass as they attempted to crawl up the beach sand. Yet, they continued to storm the beaches. Can you believe this? Unbelievable bravery…extra-ordinary courage.
The Liberation of a Country
The D-Day invasion began with massive air bombardments overnight with paratroopers landing behind enemy lines. In the early morning, amphibious landings occurred over the five Normandy beaches known as Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno.
It took six months of hardcore-combat fighting by Allied Forces to liberate France. The country was officially free from the German occupiers on October 23, 1944. The restoration of the French Republic was officially confirmed on May 9, 1945.
Click here for a very informative British-view documentary on D-Day aka: Operation Overland & Neptune. Source: DEVGRU5022
June 6, 2014 – The 70th Commemoration of D-Day.
The 70th Commemoration of D-Day…Pause and consider this friends. Freedom – as we know it today, can be traced to the military campaign seven decades ago that spelled the beginning of the end for the Third Reich.
A group of warriors involved in the liberation of France, D-Day survivors, now all in their 90s, will gather at Sword Beach on Friday, June 6, 2014 to remember the heroes of this massive military crusade Commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The President of France, Francois Hollande, is expected to be in attendance along with other world leaders and will bestow the prestigious French Legion of Honor Medal to selected members of the D-Day invasion.
A connection to Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial
The Normandy Landings, an important part of the “D-Day” invasion, literally changed the course of WWII and contributed to the Allied Force’s victory in the war. Six parachute regiments with just over 13,000 paratroopers were dropped from 800 planes over the skies of northern France.
Bruce Bailey, CEO of the Mount Soledad Memorial Association, and Max Gurney, a WWII Veteran who marched from Sicily to Rome, Italy on D-Day, are escorting San Diego’s 90 year old former D-Day Paratrooper, Bill Gailbraith, to Normandy, France where Bill will be receiving the prestigious French Legion of Honor Medal on June 6, 2014. Bill, a member of the 506th Parachute Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division – “The Screaming Eagles” – parachuted behind German-fortified lines in preparation of D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Galbraith, was also one of 41 paratroopers who, as a member of the prestigious, “The Return to Normandy” Group, reunited in 1994 for a jump on the 50th anniversary of D-Day. The guy was 70 years young then. What a hero I say.
WWII Veteran, Max Gurney (93), helped bring to life the “Return to Normandy Foundation” in 1992. The Foundation has strong ties to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association. It was one of the first veterans groups to have a plaque mounted on the walls of the Veterans Memorial atop the La Jolla hilltop in southern California.
Refer to my previous post for more information on the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial and on these American Heroes.
The French Legion of Honor Medal
The French Legion of Honor Medal is the highest award that France can bestow on an individual.
Mr. Bill Galbraith (90), D-Day Paratrooper. Hero. American.
I salute you Sir. Thank you for your bravery and service
Congratulations for being selected to receive France’s Legion of Honor Medal.
And, my thanks to Max Gurney for his service and helping to bring all this amazing military history to life.
Ride Safe Out There.
Note: Information for this blog post was adapted from numerous sources: The History Channel, PBS Organization, U.S. Army, Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial Association, Discovery Channel, YouTube’s DEVGRU5022 and others. Copyrights and Trademarks are the property of their owners. No infringement is ever intended. See footer of this blog for more information.