By Christopher Kelly
Seventy-one years ago on June 6, 1944, the Allied armies waded ashore on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe in what was the greatest American invasion of all time. The night before, on June 5, American airborne forces had landed on the western flank of the invasion area near St. Mere Eglise while British airborne forces secured the eastern flank and Pegasus bridge.
Troops came ashore the next morning on five different beaches. Brig. Gen. Ted Roosevelt Jr. (son of the president) landed with his men on Utah Beach, missing their designated landing area by about a mile. Roosevelt, asked whether his troops should re-embark, replied: “We’ll start the war from right here.”
The Canadians stormed ashore on Juno Beach and included James Doohan, who would later find fame as Scottie on “Star Trek.” Sword and Gold Beaches were reserved for the British forces. A tiny contingent of French commandos joined the British.
However, by far the worst Allied casualties occurred on bloody Omaha Beach, assigned to American GIs.
The Allies, in spite of the vast size of their armada and the relative openness of their societies, had, remarkably, managed to achieve strategic surprise over the Germans. Adolf Hitler persisted in the mistaken belief that the invasion was a feint and that the “real” blow would be struck at the Pas de Calais.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had planned the invasion from his London offices at 20 Grosvenor Square, which is today a construction site. No. 1 Grosvenor Square (now the Canadian High Commissioners Office) was the wartime location of the American embassy. Averell Harriman presided over Lend-Lease from 3 Grosvenor Square. The Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA, had its offices at 70 Grosvenor Square (now an office building). Little wonder that this neighborhood was known as “Little America” at the time.
Just imagine if an operation comparable to the Normandy invasion had to occur today in 2015 in the age of social media. An interactive poll on Allied strategy would be tweeted: “Which beach do you like more, Normandy or Pas de Calais?”
We must remember always what happened 71 years ago today. Over 10,000 Allied soldiers were killed on June 6, 1944, and many more in the weeks and months to come. Gen. George S. Patton may have summed it up best when he said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
A visit to Normandy can help all of us, regardless of political ideology, learn a bit more about what it means to be an American. We can all take pride in what those very young men did seven decades ago.
Christopher Kelly is co-author, with Stuart Laycock, of “America Invades: How We’ve Invaded or Been Militarily Involved with Almost Every Country on Earth.”