Monday, June 6, 2016

D Day

Today is D-Day, June 6.  In 1944, on this day, the largest seaborne invasion in history took place when more than 160,000 Allied troops hit 50 miles of beach on a fortified French coastline, to fight the Nazis in Normandy.  This began the liberation of northwestern Europe from German occupation and was a key step to ending World War II.  

Image result for d dayI think about how it must have felt to be on one of those landing crafts as they came close to ashore, with their front gate opening and discharging a crew of men who really had to be petrified, storming a beach full of mines with Germans shooting at them from the shore and bombs dropping from overhead. They saved the world from Hitler, that's all. Had that invasion, called "Operation Overlord," not been successful, who knows how the war might have played out?

And while those men and some women on the beach were largely anonymous outside their family and friends, how about some people you know well who were there?

Charles Durning - who played all sorts of parts as a character actor in movies like The Sting and The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and Tootsie - was a private first class in the US Army that day.  He was the only member of his squad to survive the invasion, and later fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where he was stabbed and taken prisoner of war.


J.D. Salinger - the author of "Catcher In The Rye" - landed at Normandy and also fought later in the Battle of the Bulge, largely regarded as the most vicious bloody battle of the war.  While "Catcher" concerned a loopy high school kid, some of Salinger's short stories were set in wartime (for example, "For Esme, with Love and Squalor.")  Salinger is said to have carried the rough draft of the first six chapters of his masterwork "Catcher" in his gear at Normandy.

Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher, manager and quote machine ("We're lost, but we're making good time!")  who sat behind the plate for all those years, sixty feet, six inches from the pitcher, was sixty feet off shore during the battle, manning a rocket launcher boat as a Navy seaman.

English actor David Niven and Canadian soldier James Doohan - later "Scotty" from "Star Trek," also served on the fateful day we remember today.  

By the way, for all those who say that today's young people would have trouble mustering up that much courage to fight a similar battle now, I say they would. People are still people and they still have the right values, once you get to know them a little.

It will be up to their elders to make sure we don't get in that situation again, though.

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