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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About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

5 Responses to Thought for the Day, D-Day at 70 years

  1. azz06corvette says:

    Many years ago I had the honor to meet and work with one of the men who piloted a landing craft on D Day, George Whitmore. He was a part of the group that inadvertently wound up on the wrong beach head which in the end was later noted in history as one of the reasons why so many Allied forces survived the initial landing.
    His words, intonation, and facial expressions I will never forget.
    One interesting thing he said was when I asked “George, there you are, heading in, the confusion, sounds, explosions taking place around you, when did it dawn on you that there were people trying to kill you?” “Oh”, he said, ” that was when I saw the reflection of the field glasses up on the cliffs we were approaching that is when it sunk in that these were people behind all that was going on.”
    The story he shared with us that one time was more insightful than any Hollywood depiction.
    George was one of the fortunate ones to have survived that day, but his personal life was forever marred by having been there.
    Sometimes the priced paid by others for our freedoms are paid for the rest of their lives.
    Let’s never forget the vets this and every day,

  2. joe says:

    We should remember it was the French That Stood, fought, and died, surrendering only after running out of ammunition that protected the German advance on Dunkirk.

  3. James Slover says:

    The catastrophe that was World War Two claimed the lives if at least 60 million people worldwide. The conflict lasted 2,175 days. The average loss of life was 27,586 per day, 1,149 per hour, 19 every minute. One life every 3 seconds.

    I am profoundly grateful to the nearly 400,000 Americans who fulfilled their military oath and died for those living then and for those who have and will follow. Many more suffered from physical and mental injuries for the rest of their lives.

    I work as a nurse in the VA system and am privileged to care for a 90 year old retired Senior Master Sargent who is a combat veteran of WW2, Korea and Viet Nam. As I was getting to know him, I asked him if there was anything about his combat experience that still bothered him. His reply: “I dream about it every night”. I am, we all should be, humbled.

    Every American has an obligation to have a basic understanding of our history. I wonder
    what percentage of Americans can name the major WW2 combatant countries and identify
    which side they were on?

  4. Jeff says:

    I had 5 uncles, two on Dad’s side and three on Mom’s side of the family who fought in WW2. At that time Newfoundland was a country and not part of Canada, and all of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were volunteers. All of them made it back but none ever talked about it when I was growing up. They are all gone now. My one regret in life is not knowing what they went through and not having thanked them.

    Jeff

  5. dan glaze says:

    William, here is a man I know in my home town, he is in France tonight with his few friends that are still alive, I am sure thy are reliving this horrible night as we sit in our easy chairs watching the events of that night on the History channel. let us not forget these brave men, Dan-o

    Johnstown Honors Hometown Hero & Veteran Don Jakeway

    Posted: Nov 11, 2011 2:31 PM PST

    By Steve Wainfor

    “As you know, when you are a paratrooper and you jump, you are surrounded. Period. So we fought,” said World War ll veteran Don Jakeway.

    Jakeway was part of the 82nd Airborne for three-and-a-half years. In that time, he saw the horrors war can bring.

    “We didn’t realize it but after we got into it about 40 or 50 feet, we realized it was mined. Hitler youth division was sitting on the hill waiting for us … dropping in artillery and 88s,” Jakeway said.

    He fought in Normandy, Holland and at the Battle of the Bulge.

    He has two purple hearts and four bronze stars.

    “These are my original jump boots from 1942,” said Jakeway as he points to a pair of tan boots in a nearby display case.

    Friday was a day for remembering.

    Jakeway feels that he was always blessed because he made it out of near-death situations while others were lost.

    “It killed Delough, Blair, Tanner, Vashawn; missed me; hit Mifford and some other guys behind me. How it missed me, I’ll never know,” said Jakeway.

    When he returned to his hometown of Johnstown, he wanted to give back.

    “I felt that I owed something back. So I decided that when I got home, I would do everything I can to work with the kids, the youth and schools,” said Jakeway.

    He was instrumental in starting several youth programs, including the little league program.

    On Veterans Day, it was the community that wanted to give back to him.

    At Johnstown’s Veterans Day celebration, Coshocton Street was renamed Don Jakeway Place.

    A humbling moment for a man who has given so much.

    “To have a street named after you in a community. It’s an honor that’s unbelievable,” Jakeway said. “It’s just something that I will cherish the rest of my life.”

    The community also celebrated William and John Ashbrook, both former Congressman, by dedicating Main Street to them.

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