June 6, 1944. D-Day, the day the Allies invaded Normandy. 75 years ago today, 73,000 troops and 15,500 airborne troops landed on Omaha Beach and Utah Beach. A massive, complex operation of air and sea, D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion in history. After General Dwight D. Eisenhower was briefed on the weather and the winds he gave his now-famous response after less than a minute of thought, “OK. We’ll go.”
In order to breach the German defenses so enough Allied troops could pour into Europe to defeat the Nazis, thousands of decisions had to be made. The troops navigated more than 200 yards of beach before having to scale 35 to 60 yards of cliffs, all while under enemy fire. Before the invasion, phantom field armies were planted and planes dropped leaflets telling the Germans their army was in retreat when it wasn’t. The planes also dropped metal strips to scramble German radar.
For decades, the Greatest Generation veterans didn’t talk much about D-Day. They went home and moved on with their lives. My uncle, the late Tom Long, of Dalton, was one such as they. He was there. He never talked about it.
Several years ago, Time-Life published a book about the invasion. On the cover of the book, there is a picture of a regiment leaving the troop transport vehicle. In that picture, Uncle Tom can be seen near the front of the regiment of soldiers just before they stormed Omaha Beach. I’ve often imagined what it was like for Uncle Tom and his buddies as they were on their way to Omaha Beach. I envision Uncle Tom involved in the uniquely American conversation, “Where’re you from?” Rarely is there a moment when an American does not have time to look for someone who knows his hometown.
June 4, 1984, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, President Ronald Reagan gave a speech from the exact spot where the invasion took place. There were many veterans there to hear the pivotal speech, which lasted 13 minutes.
“The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home,” Reagan said. “They felt in their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.”
It is interesting to note all the many things on which World War II had an impact. The U.S. Military Academy, for instance. When America entered World War II the classes were accelerated. The Class of 1943 graduated six months early. In January of that year, the original Class of 1944 became the June Class of 1943. The class of 1945 became the June Class of 1944. The U.S. Military Academy class of 1944 graduated June 6 and ever since they’ve been known as the “D-Day Class.” Twenty-one members of the D-Day Class are still alive. Retired Col. Doniphan Carter represented his class on their 75th reunion by laying the wreath during an annual ceremony prior to the alumni review parade. At 96, Carter was the most senior graduate in attendance at the parade.
Just like all the other Greatest Generation veterans, Uncle Tom went home after the war and went on with his life. He married my aunt and they had three children, the youngest of whom was born June 6, 1958, 14 years after D-Day. Life certainly does go on. However, D-Day is something we should never forget.