|WHAT WAS D-DAY?
In May, 1944, 12 Allied nations were working together under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower to plan an invasion of Nazi-occupied northern France. Germany’s Chancellor Adolf Hitler expected an imminent attack, but thanks to false tips from undercover spies posing as German sympathizers, his defense efforts were concentrated not in Normandy, where troops were preparing to move in, but in Pas de Calais. Their plan was almost a year in the making; preparations had begun in August, 1943. They called the day they’d launch the attack “D-Day” because they didn’t yet know the date; every day leading up to it was D-(#); those after, D+(#).
D-0: THE BATTLE BEGINS
On June 6, 1944, Eisenhower’s D-Day plan was put into action. Dependent on the element of surprise, soldiers waited in boats 10 miles offshore until it was time to approach.
“The majority of troops who landed on the D-Day beaches were from the United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S. However, troops from many other countries participated in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy: Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland…” In total, on D-Day, “Allies landed around 156,000 troops in Normandy,” including more than 73,000 Americans (The D-Day Story). Although the storming of the beaches of Normandy is still known as D-Day, the fighting was not over in one day. The battle lasted 12 more weeks, until August 30, 1944.
|VICTORY, BUT WITH A COST
The Allies emerged victorious, but suffered massive casualties.
“The fiercest fighting was on Omaha Beach where the enemy was positioned on steep cliffs that commanded the long, flat shoreline. Troops leapt from their landing boats and were pinned down for hours by murderous machine gun fire that turned the beach into a vast killing field… by midday, the Americans had surmounted the cliffs and taken Omaha Beach at a heavy cost: more than 4,700 (Allies soldiers were) killed, wounded or missing out of the total of approximately 35,000 who came ashore that day, a loss rate of more than 13 percent” (The D-Day Story). The entire battle of Normandy over those 12 weeks cost the lives of more than 100,000 Allied soldiers.
|A VFW MEMBER’S EXPERIENCE
Among those who were there was Armand Bouley of Plainfield, Connecticut. The VFW Post 5446 Past Commander passed away in 2016 at age 97, but 16 years before, he sat down with high school sophomore Nicole Panteleakos, to be interviewed for her Voice of Democracy speech contest entry. During this discussion, he spoke of his time as a medic at D-Day, including how it felt to be unarmed while gunfire happened all around him, and how desperate he was to save his fellow comrades despite the terrible odds.
“On D-Day, and especially on Omaha Beach, evacuation of wounded soldiers was a nearly impossible task. Not only did the number of wounded exceed expectations, but the means to evacuate them did not exist” (Medics on the Beaches).
|78 YEARS LATER
It has now been more than three quarters of a century since the storming of the beaches of Normandy. Across the world, people are remembering the sacrifices of those who were killed, celebrating the memories of those who made it back but have since passed, honoring the living WWII veterans, and teaching students about the importance of this battle and victory, as it helped lead the Allies to defeat the Nazis one year later.
The Best Defense Foundation is doing this in 2022 by taking 30 World War II veterans back to France to commemorate the day. Partnering with Delta Airlines, this nonprofit is dedicated to “taking care of the ones who took care of us.” Their mission is to help “Any World War II veteran who wants a measure of closure or the recognition he so richly deserves (have) an opportunity to return to his battlefield.” In 2019, the VFW and VFW Auxiliary were there in Normandy, too, for the 75th anniversary. This includes World War II veteran members and then-VFW Auxiliary National President Sandi Kriebel, who described it as “an historic moment… that presented me the memorable opportunity to honor those moments in time and heroes of D-Day… along with the kindness and appreciation of the French people.”
The following lyrics, written and sung by British veteran Jim Radford, remind us that we must work to remember those who were lost during the fight: “For every hero’s name that’s known, a thousand died as well / On stakes and wire their bodies hung, rocked in the ocean swell / And many a mother wept that day for the sons they loved so well…” Radford was the youngest Allied soldier to have served on D-Day; he recorded this song in his 90s, beautifully describing a battle that changed not only the course of the war, but countless lives. Thank you to all those who served on D-Day. You will never be forgotten.
Do you know any World War II veterans from your Post or in your family who were there either on D-Day or fought in the battle of Normandy between June and August, 1944? If so, let us know on by posting to social media with the hashtag #MYNORMANDYVET. We would love to share their stories in our first September E-Newsletter, which will be emailed out the day after the battle was won (August 30) and on our social media throughout the summer.
Photo captions & credit:
1. The American World War II cemetery in Normandy where D-Day veterans, among others, are interred.
2. Planes fly over the 75th Anniversary of D-Day ceremony in Normandy, France, in 2019.
3. Past Post Commander Armand Bouley dances in the street before marching in the V-J Day Parade in Moosup, Connecticut in 2004 at age 86.
4. World War II veterans, including VFW members, await the start of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day ceremony in Normandy, 2019.
Photos taken by Past Department of Connecticut Commander Stanley Borusiewicz, Jr.