It was 78 years ago today that two U.S. infantry divisions landed on bloody Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion on the French coast on June 6, 1944.
If you were there as an 18- or 19-year-old soldier — and you survived — you would be pushing 100 today, and soon all living memory of that historic event will be gone.
But many of those soldiers did not survive that day, the longest day, and were killed during the first wave of landings, especially at Omaha, on the edge of mainland Europe.
It was the first day of a long-planned effort to defeat Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany and set Europe free.
Omaha was one of five Allied landing beaches at Normandy that day. The Americans landed at Omaha and Utah while the British, Canadians and other Allies landed at adjacent beaches code named Juno, Gold and Sword.
But of them all, Omaha was the bloodiest, most contentious, most costly and most deadly.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. U.S. landing craft were blasted out of the water before hitting the beach by German artillery that should have been destroyed earlier. Many heavily equipped soldiers drowned.
Solders who did land were raked by German machine gun fire coming from bunkers and machine gun emplacements in the cliffs overlooking the landing zones some 200 yards away from the waterline of the open beach. German landmines and obstructions were everywhere.
There was no place to take cover. Bombers that were assigned to bomb the beach and create craters for cover mistakenly bombed inland instead.
Many Americans were killed without firing a shot.
Although advances at the other landing sites went well, Omaha was a potential disaster. Because so many soldiers were killed, and no progress made, the landing was almost abandoned and given up for lost.
But with courage, grit and determination, the troops grimly held on. They had the backing and support of President Franklin Roosevelt and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the overall commander. There would be no withdrawal from the beach.
Unlike loose political talk now, where politicians jabber about threats to democracy unless they get their way, this war was a real fight to save democracy. You wonder if we could do it again today.
Things turned around late in the day when the U.S. Navy fired on the German strong points and U.S. Rangers scaled and captured nearby Point du Hoc, which allowed them to fire down on the Germans. This enabled the troops on the beach to finally break through sages in the dunes, scale the hills and destroy the German defenses.
US WWII veteran Ray Wallace, of the 507th PIR 82rd Airborne, looks on as World War II history enthusiasts parade in WWII vehicles to commemorate the 78th anniversary of D-Day that led to the liberation of France and Europe from the German occupation, in Sainte-Mere-L’Eglise, Normandy, Sunday, June, 5, 2022. On Monday, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, home to the gravesites of 9,386 who died fighting on D-Day and in the operations that followed, will host U.S. veterans and thousands of visitors in its first major public ceremony since 2019. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)
You walk along the shoreline of Omaha Beach and look up at the distant cliffs and you wonder how in the world they did it. It seems impossible. The scene is overwhelming, awesome and eerie.
You climb to the top of the bluff and the cliffs, and you see the German fortified bunkers looking down on the beach and you grasp the enormity of the sacrifice the soldiers made on that landing.
Nearby is the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer where some 10,000 U.S. soldiers killed that day and in ensuing days are buried, row upon row, most 18, 19, 20 or 21 years old. It too looks down on Omaha Beach where many of them were killed.
It is sobering to think back to that time and compare the resolve and the leaders we had then to what we have today. One shudders.
Would President Biden, author of the humiliating and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan, have had the courage to have stayed the course at Omaha?
Or would he have cut and run just as he did, with woke Gen. Mark Milley at his side, in Afghanistan, abandoning our allies, and costing the lives of 13 Americans.
The question answers itself.
Joe Biden is no Roosevelt. And Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is no Eisenhower.
We deserve better. The men at Omaha deserve better too.
Peter Lucas is a veteran Massachusetts political reporter and columnist.
The remains of a fortified German bunker looming above Omaha beach in France. (Courtesy photo by Peter Lucas)
British veteran Richard Forrester of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps arrives in a British Taxi Charity for Military Veterans at the ceremony at Pegasus Bridge, in Ranville, Normandy, Sunday, June, 5, 2022. On Monday, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, home to the gravesites of 9,386 who died fighting on D-Day and in the operations that followed, will host U.S. veterans and thousands of visitors in its first major public ceremony since 2019. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez) General view of headstones in the US cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, Saturday, June, 4 2022. Several ceremonies will take place to commemorate the 78th anniversary of D-Day that led to the liberation of France and Europe from the German occupation. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzales)