Seventy Four Years Ago Today…
By Jack Kinsella
Seventy-four years ago today Operation Overlord commenced with a 12,000 plane airborne assault coordinated with an amphibious assault consisting of almost 7,000 vessels.
On that first day, more than 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel and fought their way cross four beaches code-named Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Gold Beach and Juno Beach under murderous German gunfire.
The Americans attempting to land at Omaha Beach had to fight their way through the German 352nd Infantry Division, one of the most seasoned and well trained divisions the Germans had.
At Point du Hoc, the 2nd Ranger Battalion’s task still seems impossible, despite the fact they actually accomplished it, seventy-four years ago today. The Rangers were tasked with making a beach landing under enemy fire.
But for them, that was the easy part. For instead of fighting their way across a beach, they had to climb a sheer 100 foot cliff.
It is unthinkable, really.
Using ropes and ladders, these amazing men climbed the sheer face of the cliff while carrying their weapons and gear, under enemy fire with machine gun bullets and grenades raining down on them from above.
They had to make their way to the top of the rope, climb over the edge of the cliff into the teeth of the waiting enemy, fight through them, destroy the enemy gun emplacements there and then hold the location until relieved.
Somehow they managed to accomplish their impossible mission but at unthinkable costs. They held Point du Hoc for two days against wave after wave of German counter-attack, losing sixty percent of the battalion in the process.
In all some ten thousand Allied troops were killed taking the beaches, seventy-four years ago today.
The commemoration ceremonies to mark D-Day are usually a time of bittersweet sadness for me. I was raised by World War Two’s survivors — my parents were married in London on May 22, 1940 — during the height of the London Blitz.
The veterans and survivors of World War II shaped my world.
My father’s best friend was a Dutchman named Ike. They met in Holland when Ike was with the Dutch resistance. When Dad returned to Canada after the war, he sponsored Ike and his family when they immigrated.
‘Uncle’ Ike and ‘Aunt’ Anna were fixtures around my house when I was growing up.
When I was growing up in the fifties, Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight David Eisenhower, the man that put D-Day together, was sitting in the Oval Office. The Senate and House were filled with D-Day veterans.
You didn’t have to lock your doors. You didn’t worry about people shooting up schools and shopping centers.
Veterans of that conflict were my teachers and mentors and advisors. Most of my friends’ fathers’ were veterans, as were all my father’s friends. My grandfather was a veteran of BOTH World Wars.
There was something about them — they were quiet giants. These quiet giants not only shaped my world, they were the ones running it. They accomplished things ordinary men could never imagine. They looked ordinary — but they weren’t.
When you grow up in a world populated by giants, giants don’t seem so uncommonly gigantic.
I listened to some of the D-Day veteran’s stories on TV — one told of his experiences without bitterness, ending by mentioning the recent loss of his wife of 59 years.
To me, he was another example of why those quiet giants earned the nickname, “the Greatest Generation.” He didn’t criticize his leadership when his ship was shot out from under him.
He didn’t even hold any bitterness towards the German who fired the fatal shot. He came home and lived quietly for fifty-nine years with the bride of his youth.
The quiet giants of my youth who stormed the beaches at Normandy are now in their nineties or have passed on to their reward.
I’ve been blessed to have known such men all my life — each D-Day commemoration reminds me of who they were and it gives me such sadness to know that soon they will be gone. I will miss them all.
It’s been an honor. Semper fi.
This Letter was written by Jack Kinsella on June 6, 2011.