A Great and Noble Undertaking: June 6, 1944

 

“Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” – Dwight Eisenhower, Order of the Day. June 6, 1944

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Today marks the seventieth year since the Allied invasion of a Europe enveloped in the darkness of Hitler’s Third Reich, remembered as “D-Day.”

One of the neatest items I poses is a copy of D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Battle of World War II by the late historian Stephen E. Ambrose. I know many may possess and have read this book, but mine is special because it is a gift directly from the author and is inscribed: “For John, My fellow Eagle Scout and fellow historian, who, like me, has a wonderful Dad. Stephen E. Ambrose. Bay St. Louis 12/7/99.” (historians will also note the date of the inscription). There is a longer story about this but not one I am telling at the moment.

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This book contains some of the most poignantly written passages in American historiography ever. In honor and memory of the brave allies and “citizen soldiers” of the United States I would like to quote a few lines from this monumental work:

First note this:

“[The Average American draftee] was twenty-six years old, five feet eight inches tall, weighed 144 pounds, had a thirty-three-and-a-half-inch chest, and a thirty-one-inch waist. After thirteen weeks of basic training, he’d gained seven pounds (and converted many of his original pounds from fat to muscle) and added at least one inch to his chest. Nearly half of the draftees were high-school graduates; one in ten had some college. As Geoffry Perret puts it in his history of the U.S. Army in WW II, “these were the best educated men of any army in history.”

Also: only two out of the fifty American divisions who participated in the invasion had seen combat. The British and other Allied numbers were similar.

Now read:

“They wanted to be throwing baseballs, not hand grenades, shooting .22s at rabbits, not M-1s at other young men. But when the test came, when freedom had to be fought for or abandoned, they fought. They were soldiers of democracy. They were the men of D-Day, and to them we owe our freedom.”

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