WOSTER: Remember D-Day heroes, learn from their characterI read just the other day that former President Dwight D. Eisenhower mentioned himself not at all in a talk about the success of D-Day, the Allied invasion across the English Channel to the coast of France that began to turn the tide of battle in that theater of World War II.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I read just the other day that former President Dwight D. Eisenhower mentioned himself not at all in a talk about the success of D-Day, the Allied invasion across the English Channel to the coast of France that began to turn the tide of battle in that theater of World War II.
I read from the same source that Eisenhower, a U.S. Army general in command of the invasion forces, also had a speech prepared in the event that the initiative failed. In the speech prepared against the possibility of an unsuccessful invasion, the writer of the piece I was reading said Eisenhower took full responsibility for the failure.
Victory, the saying goes, has a thousand fathers; defeat is an orphan. If what I read was close to true, Ike was prepared to claim the orphan and apparently had no interest in being identified as one of the thousand fathers of the D-Day invasion. I’d like to think it is so, because as a kid born five months before the Normandy landing, I grew up with General Eisenhower, and then President Eisenhower, as one of my heroes.
I was just short of 9 years old when Eisenhower became president and nearly 13 when he was re-elected. I rather liked Adlai Stevenson, I must admit. He seemed bookish and well-mannered and quite kind. Eisenhower seemed a lot like the grandfathers I never knew — thoughtful, common, brave and quietly in command. Besides, he was a war hero, and apparently one who didn’t immediately boast of his success in battle.
Perhaps during the presidential campaigns he rode his war record like Jean Cruguet rode Seattle Slew to the Triple Crown back in 1977. I don’t know. I wasn’t paying close attention to political details. I was more interested in war movies. But I knew about Ike. Everybody back then knew about Ike, and everybody knew about D-Day.
Today, of course, is the anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. When I was a schoolboy in Chamberlain, the town had its share of war veterans. Most of them were normal folks, a lot like the rest of the adults in town, but with just a slight air of mystery. In my family, the adults didn’t talk a lot about the veterans, but every now and then my dad would mention that one guy or another had been at Normandy or the Battle of the Bulge or one of the islands in the Pacific whose names I learned to spell by reading books in the library and whose names I learned to pronounce by going to the Saturday matinees when the war movies were showing.
War as the subject for movies isn’t so common these days. I recall John Wayne being in a bunch of war movies — “In Harm’s Way,” “The Flying Leathernecks,” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” and, of course, “The Longest Day.” That last one was about D-Day, and Wayne played an officer who jumped with his men into the thick of the battle. Now, most of the movies I watched at the State Theater in Chamberlain. I saw “The Longest Day” in a theater in Omaha when I was a college freshman. It was, as they say, a movie with a star-studded cast, many sub-plots, perspective from Allied, the Nazi and the Resistance points of view and a lot of smoking and shooting.
I have no idea how realistic it was. I know that many, many soldiers who hit the beaches in the invasion fell where they landed and lay where they fell. Many others survived to fight and win, a bunch of common people performing most uncommon acts of bravery.
Some years ago, I saw the Tom Hanks movie about D-Day and one small group of soldiers’ efforts to locate and save Private Ryan. I have no idea how realistic that movie was, either. The initial invasion scenes, which seemed to stretch for hours and hours, seemed pretty realistic.
As a kid who loved war movies, I sometimes wondered if I’d be brave enough to step from a landing craft into that kind of battle. I was never tested that way. Today is a good day to remember the soldiers who were.