Thursday, June 6, 2019

June 6, 1944 D-Day

75 Years ago today the Americans landed on Omaha Beach.

Perhaps one of the greatest war correspondents of WW II, Ernie Pyle missed out on the D-Day invasion. But that didn't stop him from telling the story and telling it well:

Ernie Pyle: OWING to a last-minute alteration in the arrangements, I didn't arrive on the beachhead until the morning after D-day, after our first wave of assault troops had hit the shore. 

By the time we got there the beaches had been taken and the fighting had moved a couple of miles inland. All that remained on the beach was some sniping and artillery fire, and the occasional startling blast of a mine geysering brown sand into the air. That plus a gigantic and pitiful litter of wreckage along miles of shore line. 

Submerged tanks and overturned boats and burned trucks and shell- shattered jeeps and sad little personal belongings were strewn all over those bitter sands. That plus the bodies of soldiers lying in rows covered with blankets, the toes of their shoes sticking up in a line as though on drill. 

And other bodies, uncollected, still sprawling grotesquely in the sand or half hidden by the high grass beyond the beach. That plus an intense, grim determination of work-weary men to get that chaotic beach organized and get all the vital supplies and the reinforcements moving more rapidly over it from the stacked-up ships standing in droves out to sea.

The rest of Ernie Pyle's report on D-Day is here

It is interesting to note that there was no dishonor in not landing on the beaches in the first wave, in fact there is perhaps a note of relief in the words Pyle chose. Throughout Ernie Pyle's reporting of the war in Europe which is complied in a book titled Brave Men (Henry Holt and Company) (I'm holding a first addition 74 year old copy in my hands) he speaks of brave men.


Normandy is a great trip (if you have the time and means) but this summer you don't have to travel to France to get a sense of what D-Day was like and what Pyle saw and experienced, because the National D-Day Memorial is an easy day trip from Charlotte. Located in Bedford Virginia just off I-81 half way between Roanoke and Lynchburg. Take 77 north then 81 (The web site for the National D-Day Memorial is here.)

National D-Day Memorial Bedford Virginia
The D-Day Memorial is amazingly well done. If you enter from the rear parking lot you walk through a garden then up stairs to reach the entrance.

The memorial is designed so that you walk down the ramp of a landing craft onto "the beach", the sound of the ocean waves surround you as you come face to face with a German "pillbox" with machine guns and bullets striking the water around you.

Cedar's Take: Just OMG Wow. The area is very scenic and Bedford has a number of lunch spots. If you have "road worthy" kids it is worth effort. But there is a sense of honor and respect around the grounds so "free range" parents should probably take a pass. 

A little side bar - Page 384 Pyle speaks of "Lieutenant Wallace Gibbs, of RFD 2, Providence Road, Charlotte North Carolina". Gibbs was a family friend. A business partner of my father. The story is here.


Anonymous said...

Spot on Cedar. I made the trip from Charlotte 2 years ago, didn't expect much maybe a nice park and a memorial of some sort. I left in tears. So much more than I could have imagined.

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Anonymous said...

Member of my family was killed on D Day. He was killed on the beach, age 19, and never stood a chance. You know, people often assume that these losses aren’t felt much after the ones who actually knew the deceased are gone but I can assure you that these sacrifices continue to be felt in the families who made them even today.
Thank you for writing this.