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Clif Cleaveland, MD
5 June 2014
I will mark the seventieth anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944,
in Great Britain. The day is the culmination of a week of
remembrance in this country which had been at war with Germany
since September 1939.
On Sunday, June 1st, the BBC broadcast from various cathedrals
an hour of hymns themed to commemorate those who had been engaged
in World War II and all conflicts. Televised interviews with
veterans of the invasion of France, both British and American, have
been featured daily. Interviews have been interspersed with news
footage of the planning and execution of the landings on the
beaches of Normandy. The affection of the English for President
Roosevelt and General Eisenhower is evident in the commentaries.
The vital role of supplies of food, fuel, and armaments from the
United States is highlighted.
I had followed the war closely. Uncles and cousins had been
drafted into service early in the war. Their heavily redacted
letters were circulated among our extended families. Because of
censorship the letters often told us little more than the writer
was alive and uninjured. My relatives returned safely. Those who
had been in combat spoke little of their experiences and only after
many years. Like most veterans they returned home, resumed work, or
began college studies under the G.I. Bill.
Newspaper, radio, and newsreel accounts of the war allowed us to
follow, often inaccurately, the progress of American forces
battling across North Africa, Sicily, and into Italy. Postwar
accounts would provide a more detailed account of setbacks and
casualties that were shielded from the general public. Coverage of
the Pacific theater highlighted victories in the Battle of Midway
and in the initial counteroffensives for control of Japanese-held
On the home front, we bought war bonds. When a Spitfire touring
the South made an emergency landing at my hometown airport, crowds
showed up for an impromptu rally to purchase more bonds. We had
rationing coupons for shoes, butter, meat, and gasoline. We
collected newspaper and scrap iron for drives at our schools. We
were aware when Gold Stars were placed in the windows of homes of
servicemen killed in action and of one soldier missing in action.
He would return at war's end. My friends and I played outdoor war
games and watched every war movie that came to town. But we were
Planning for D-Day had proceeded in great detail for two years
while complex, bloody battles were fought in two theaters. An
intricate intelligence operation gathered data and analyzed
countless aerial photographs. A campaign of deception was
implemented to confuse the enemy as to the site of the invasion.
Bad weather in the English Channel led to a postponement of the
invasion for a day. With meteorologists predicting a brief gap in
stormy conditions, General Eisenhower gave the go-ahead for June
Thousands of American and British soldiers landed in France
before dawn by parachute and by glider. Casualties were high.
Forces were scattered. Many plans did not materialize. Scattered
groups of soldiers coalesced, created mayhem behind enemy lines and
held key objectives, including vital bridges.
American forces landed at Utah and Omaha beaches at daybreak.
Despite intense bombardment, enemy fortifications held. Casualties
were extremely high for soldiers exiting landing vessels, sometimes
in waist-deep water. More than four thousand Allied soldiers would
perish in the Normandy invasion. More than ten thousand were
wounded or missing. Command structures faltered. Only a small
fraction of tanks and supplies reached shore. In the chaos of that
grim day, the courage, pragmatism, and stubbornness of small groups
of warriors were the difference between gaining a beachhead and
At the end of the day, a broad, irregular beachhead had been
established. American casualties for D-Day included 2500 deaths and
6000 wounded or missing. Fierce and costly fighting in Europe would
continue until V-E, Victory in Europe, Day on May 8, 1945.
Eleanor Roosevelt's wartime prayer commemorates the men and
women of our armed forces who serve in all conflicts: "Dear Lord,
Lest I continue my complacent way, help me to remember that
somewhere, somehow out there a man died for me today. As long as
there be war, I then must ask and answer, am I worth dying
Contact Clif Cleaveland at firstname.lastname@example.org.