For some, the wall-to-wall coverage of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings may have seemed a bit excessive. During the week before Sunday, you couldn’t turn on the History Channel or A&E or read a newspaper without seeing something on the landings.
Much of it was repetitive. I don’t know how many times I saw the footage of General Eisenhower talking with the 101st Airborne soldiers before they climbed on those C-47s or members of the 29thth Infantry scrambling out of the landing craft as they arrived on Omaha Beach.
I’ll admit I can’t watch the film or look at photos without getting a lump in my throat. There is something about the grins on the faces of the paratroopers talking to Ike that just says “This is America at its best.” (A personal note: I have photographed troops jumping out the open door of a C-47, and I can’t imagine doing that in peace time let alone with half the German army waiting for you.)
I’ve written before about the National Guard company from Bedford, Va., that lost nearly 100 percent of its men when it landed in the first wave at Omaha Beach. Survivors of other companies had to cross 300 yards of open beach under German machinegun fire to re-group and drive the enemy off the beach.
My father came ashore a few days after D-Day, and he said he would always remember the bodies that were still floating along the shore. He served in a radar unit that moved across France, got cutoff during the Battle of the Bulge and finished the war in Germany.
Anyone who saw the coverage knows that things didn’t go according to plan at Omaha Beach or in the paratrooper landings. Tanks that were supposed to spearhead the advance at Omaha sunk before they reached the beach and paratroopers landed miles from their targets inland.
Besides their incredible bravery, what got the soldiers past the hand the war dealt them was their training –and the total commitment of the United States to achieve victory. In most of the wars since – including the current one – rarely have U.S. soldiers been as trained for the mission and provided with the equipment they needed as they were on D-Day.
By coincidence, my high school class celebrated its 40th reunion the same weekend as the D-Day anniversary. We enjoyed visiting and catching up on what had happened to us since we graduated in 1964. But it occurred later that some of those classmates, most of whom were born in 1946, wouldn’t have been there if their fathers hadn’t been lucky enough to have been in the later landings or survived the countless other battles in France and Germany and the Pacific.
Excessive coverage? Maybe. But we can hope that in the repetition some who normally wouldn’t give D-Day a thought watched and realized how fortunate we are that we have men and women – then and now – who are willing to make such sacrifices.