Thought for the Day, D-Day at 70 years

Builders,

Today marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of the liberation of France from four years of brutal German occupation, and the collapse of the third Reich in the West, 330 days later. It was not the largest nor most lethal battle in WWII, but it is a critical day in the war and thus of the 20th century and by extension the world we live in today. This was purchased for us by individuals who we will never meet, paying a terrible price.

Only a handful of men who saw June 6th 1944 through are still with us. In a day or so our national attention will drift away, we will awaken it for a few hours in five years, and again in another five, and when the 80th anniversary rolls around, most people will somewhat surprised to find that there are no men left among the living who understood what the day looked like standing behind the bow ramp of a landing craft, as if their passing was somehow unexpected. Perhaps it is worth taking some time today to consider just what our inheritance cost other men.

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I am always bothered by how easily Americans believe and perpetuate propaganda about the French role in fighting WWII, particularly the complete myths that the French didn’t fight the Germans, that they somehow lacked courage and that they do not appreciate the Allied losses to reconquer their land. These are complete fallacies, shamefully repeated by people who don’t read, couldn’t find France on a map, and have never met a single person who was there to see the cost.

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The French Army lost 180,000 men killed in action against the Germans in just 43 days of fighting. That is three times the loss Americans in Vietnam, which was spread over 1,000 days. The French made this loss cost the Germans in men at material. If they had surrendered without a fight as some people think, the Germans could have easily invaded England in 1940. 350,000 French civilians died in WWII, vs 12,000 American, from a population that was 1/3 of ours. The French do not need reminding of the cost of the war.

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My Grandfather fought in savage combat in the trenches of France in 1918. We have his personal diaries written at the time that document countless acts of courage on the part of French Infantrymen who had often seen more than 1,000 days of combat already. It was my Grandfathers life long belief that the French Infantryman was second to none in unalloyed human courage, willing to advance directly into withering shell fire. His belief was not shaken by the French fighting 22 years later in WWII. He saw them as sons of the same men.

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As recently as last summer, my sister toured the Allied cemeteries in France and reported to my father, documented with photos, that the graves are perfectly cared for and lovingly maintained by the people of France.  Below is a story about how the French have done this for 70 years. Few Americans know that 1/10th of the soldiers killed in the American revolution were French volunteers, nor that it might be embarrassing to compare how we are caring for their graves here.

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A story about two American graves in France:

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Quentin, the youngest son of Theodore Roosevelt, in the cockpit of his Nieuport 28 in France in 1918, above. All of T.R.’s children revered him. Contrary to today’s perspective, his family thought that their wealth and privilege required their direct service to the country in time of conflict. All four of his sons served in combat in WW I. Quentin was a very skilled flight instructor, but was not personally satisfied that he was exposed to the same risk that others faced. His father and family had advocated American intervention into the war, and he felt that this morally obligated him to directly fight it. He argued that he be sent to a fighter group at the front. He understood that his poor eyesight put him at a great disadvantage, but he would not have the country send another man in his place. He lived less than a month at the front. On 7/14/18 he was shot down and killed by a German pilot. His father was broken by the news, even the end of the war brought T.R. little solace. He died 6 months after Quentin. T.R. was only 60 years old.

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T.R.’s oldest son, Theodore Jr., went on to serve in WW II also. A brigadier general, he was the oldest man to set foot on the beach on D-Day. Under withering fire, he rallied his men to leave the beach and attack inland. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for this. He was in poor health and died at the front a month later, laid to rest in a Normandy cemetery.  In 1955 the people of France thought that Theodore Jr. and Quentin should rest side by side in the Normandy cemetery. With the approval of the Roosevelt family, Quentin’s solitary grave of 37 years was moved to rest beside his brother’s. The French, who lost  nearly 2 million of their own sons in WW I, and another 200,000 in WWII, maintain the graves of the Roosevelt’s and thousands of other Americans with great care and understanding.

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“The idea of caring for American graves began not long after the Normandy Invasion of June 6, 1944. One of the first French citizens to tend the grave of a fallen American soldier was Simone Renaud, of St. Mere Eglise, France. This photo, taken by Life Magazine photographer Ralph Morse, shows Mme. Renaud placing flowers on the grave of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. at the American military cemetery in Normandy.”


” Netherlands resident Marco Weijers adopted the grave of Albert Partridge, he became one of 8,301 local residents who adopted the grave of an American soldier at the American Military Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands.  Adoption of American military graves is now a fairly common practice at the American military cemeteries scattered across the European continent.- ALEX McRAE “

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