The Trolls remember D-Day
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 05, 2008
(Ed. Note: This article originally ran on June 6, 2007 and proved one of the most popular off-season pieces in our short little history, thanks in large part to the folks at the great political website, RealClearPolitics.com, which picked up the piece soon after it was published here.)
From June 6, 2007:
(We don't usually write here on a personal level, but today deserves special consideration. As loyal CHFF readers know, we consider football a uniquely American celebration of our culture and, therefore, feel a need to pay tribute to those who forged our culture.)
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts publisher
Over the past 1,000 years, only two military men have successfully crossed the English Channel. One is called the Conquerer. The other is called Eisenhower.
Maybe that's why I've been utterly fascinated by D-Day – 63 years ago today – ever since I was a small child. That's me, there, on June 6, 2004, at St. Mere Eglise, the little Norman village liberated by American paratroopers on D-Day and immortalized in the book and movie "The Longest Day." The entire town today is a shrine to the lost, confused and heroic American boys who took the economy flight on their first trip to Europe. Monuments and markers signify the spots where many of them fell – and many of them died. An effigy of an American paratrooper hangs from the church bell tower, a constant reminder of Pvt. John Steele, who was caught in that precarious position on the day the town was freed from the Nazis. The French have not forgotten, folks, certainly not in Normandy.
Everything about D-Day blows my mind: the organization, the creativity, the deception, the overpowering industrial might, the sheer logistics – hell, they laid a diesel fuel pipeline under the English Channel that day to power all the tanks and trucks landing on the other side – but mostly, the humanity and inhumanity of it all, the horror and, yes, the heroism. I can barely run a little website. Eisenhower organized the largest invasion force and logistical enterprise ever assembled and ordered millions of men into battle. One historian or politician (who it was escapes me) described D-Day as the most unselfish act in the history of man. Tossing a buck to the guy panhandling outside Starbucks just doesn't compare.
Hundreds of thousands of men (and women, too) from the world's great freedom-loving nations risked imminent death to breach Fortress Europe and free it from the grip of a ruthless, racist, bloodthirsty military dictatorship. (It's become trendy in recent years to compare certain American politicians to Nazis. But show me the ovens, the gas chambers or the factories where the skins of ethnic minorities are turned into lampshades and maybe we can talk. Otherwise, zip it.)
Success was hardly guaranteed. In fact, Americans were stricken with anxiety as they awoke in the early hours of June 6 to learn that the invasion was underway, so stricken that they were compelled to turn to a higher power. It offers fascinating insight into the mindset of the nation that morning that Americans en masse flooded churches from coast to coast to pray to whatever higher power they worshipped. It pays to remember that it was a Tuesday, not a Sunday. As far as I'm concerned, D-Day should be a national holiday, a time to reflect upon the trauma of this "day of days."
But let's not forget that Americans did not do it alone. Hardly. Citizens of the world rose from the sea and fell from the sky that day, too. Citizens of nations with whom our friendships were forged in bloodshed and in the crucible of the most trying times in humankind: our friends in the U.K., Canada and, yes, even France, a nation that suffered more than a half million dead in World War II. Dozens of other nations participated in D-Day, too. Bravery does not have political borders.
I had lunch the other day with a diplomat from the French consulate in Boston (very untroll-like, I know ... but these things happen). He made a very interesting point: for all the animosity between the two countries, France is the only major European country with which the U.S. has never been at war.
I'm no Francophile, but the French were there when our nation was forged, surrounding Cornwallis at Yorktown, and they have ceded land to the U.S. so that we can honor our dead (our French cemeteries, such as the famous one of Colleville-sur-Mer (pictured here) overlooking Omaha Beach, are sovereign American soil). The guest books at the cemeteries are filled with moving tributes from Europeans to the dead of D-Day. Grown French men still drive around the Norman countryside today in World War II Jeeps dressed as American paratroopers. When I visited Normandy, the American, British and Canadian flags flew over every village and town square. It has been a tradition for French schoolchildren to write thank-you letters to American veterans, and the French government has hosted countless events through the years to honor the boys and young men who rescued their nation. (The French even elected a pro-American president in 2007.) As one Frenchman told me in Normandy, the irresponsibly anti-American "Le Monde" does not speak for the French people, much like the New York Times does not speak for all Americans.
The true miracle of D-Day is that the entire effort was pulled off just two and a half years after the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, an event that sent the nation reeling militarily and psychologically. Americans quickly steadied themselves, banned together and launched the greatest and most important industrial and military crusade, perhaps in human history. A mere 30 months after the humiliating blow of Pearl Harbor, American industrial and military might cracked the walls of Fortress Europe. (The truth is that Stalin's much lamented "second front" had in fact been opened with the Allied invasions of Africa and Italy, but that fact was lost on the dictator, and seems lost on historians today.) It's amazing what can be done, and how quickly it can be done, when the nation's very survival is at stake, and when the nation is united.
There's never been anything like D-Day in human history ... and, hopefully, there will never be a need for anything like D-Day again.
That's my two cents worth. Others have said it better. Ronald Reagan said it all in his famous "Boys of Pointe Du Hoc" speech 20 years ago. He died, ironically, when I was in Normandy three years ago for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. I heard the news while in a hotel room in Bayeux, the first city of any size liberated by the Allies on D-Day, and a short distance from the famed Bayeux Tapestry that visually describes William's conquest of England nearly 1,000 years earlier. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, meanwhile, gives us contemporary insight into the minds of Americans on that day of days, 63 years ago today, with a prayer he offered to the nation.
Reagan was a Republican. Roosevelt was a Democrat. But those are just labels. Each stands among history's great emancipators. The words of both men are found below. Here, too, is a pretty impressive video documentary from an 8th-grade student we found on YouTube, complete with music from "Band of Brothers."
show video here
Ronald Reagan's "Boys of Pointe Du Hoc" speech – June 6, 1984
We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers--the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. (Ed Note: the image here is of the monument at Pointe Du Hoc that Reagan referenced here.)
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.''
I think I know what you may be thinking right now--thinking, "We were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.'' Well, everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren't. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him.
Lord Lovat was with him--Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, "Sorry I'm a few minutes late,'' as if he'd been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he'd just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.
There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.
All of these men were part of a rollcall of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland's 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England's armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard's "Matchbox Fleet'' and you, the American Rangers.
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge--and pray God we have not lost it--that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They thought--or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.
Something else helped the men of D-Day: their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''
These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.
When the war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt a new Europe together.
There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall Plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall Plan led to the Atlantic alliance--a great alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace.
In spite of our great efforts and successes, not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came.
They're still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war. Because of this, Allied forces still stand on this continent. Today, as 40 years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose--to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.
We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We've learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.
But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.
It's fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the Earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.
We will pray forever that some day that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.
We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We're bound by reality. The strength of America's allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe's democracies. We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.
Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''
Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.
Thank you very much, and God bless you all.
FDR's D-Day Prayer – June 6, 1944
My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
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