Thursday, July 31, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;55.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nskc.png;2014-07-31 05:26:26
Friday, June 6, 2014

‘Longest Day’ still ripples in history

Telegraph Editorial

It happened 70 years ago today on a stretch of beach off the coast of France. They called it D-Day, and it marked the beginning of the end of World War II, and the start of something much bigger.

Western Europe in 1944 was in the grip of Adolf Hitler’s German army, including Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, France, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

It happened 70 years ago today on a stretch of beach off the coast of France. They called it D-Day, and it marked the beginning of the end of World War II, and the start of something much bigger.

Western Europe in 1944 was in the grip of Adolf Hitler’s German army, including Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, France, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union.

England had taken a pounding from German bombers and U-boats terrorized the North Atlantic, sinking military and merchant ships with torpedoes.

It was something that had to be done, and the sons of America – along with those of Great Britain and Canada – did it. They crossed the English Channel and mounted an assault on the French region of Normandy that is still staggering to contemplate in its scale.

It’s estimated that more than 150,000 soldiers arrived in an armada of ships that stretched to the horizon, preceded by thousands of airborne soldiers who parachuted from the night sky behind enemy lines, often landing far from their intended drop zones. Within a month, an estimated 800,000 soldiers would put ashore in France and start the march through Europe.

As if it were just that easy.

The soldiers who stormed the five beaches on the Normandy coast were met with blankets of gunfire. The Germans were expecting the invasion, even if they weren’t exactly sure when and where the landing force would be arriving. They knew we were coming, we knew they knew, but we went anyway.

It was something that had to be done.

It was also a huge risk, a fact not lost on Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The D-Day leader and future U.S. president wrote a famously unsent letter in advance of the invasion – in the event it failed – stating that, “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

D-Day was beset by logistical pitfalls and hardly came off exactly as planned, but the invasion eventually succeeded. It freed Europe from the bondage of Nazism and brought about the end of World War II in 1945.

That was the last time the outcome of a war seemed so cut and dried. It was a truly international effort, and Eisenhower’s letter to the troops on the eve of the invasion even paid homage to the sacrifices made by civilian on the home front. Our parents and grandparents did without because there was a war on, and gas, food, shoes and other supplies were rationed.

That was also something that had to be done, to give allied soldiers and sailors the best possible chance for victory. There was a feeling that everybody had a stake in the outcome, because everybody knew somebody on the front lines – or knew somebody who did.

The invasion’s ripples are still being felt, not only because of what was accomplished on those beaches, but for what the survivors did afterward.

The liberators and the liberated – and the vanquished, for that matter – went on to raise families and build communities. They changed the world through their actions in areas like civil rights, education, business, science, law, and the arts, to name only some fields in which they excelled.

The best part was the way they all kind of shrugged when Tom Brokaw hung them with the label “The Greatest Generation.”

They were – but part of what made them so was that they understood they were flawed, and the war had taught them that taking credit for something that had to be done never got the next thing done.

That’s a lesson that seems to be lost in an age where self-serving is the norm and true accomplishment seems the exception.

So what have we done lately to honor their legacy?

Not nearly enough.