“The sheer improbability of what happened here makes this so memorable” – President Obama.
These are just a few words that would be spoken at the 65th anniversary of the storming of the beaches at Normandy. Known to most simply as D-Day.
Sitting in a room on the coast of England, the allied commander, known as Eisenhower, knew that a small window of opportunity was all that he had. Weather was terrible. But if it broke, as they had been notified it might, 150,000 Allied soldiers would be deployed to land on the shores of Normandy.
“An invading army had not crossed the unpredictable, dangerous English Channel since 1688 — and once the massive force set out, there was no turning back. The 5000-vessel armada stretched as far as the eye could see, transporting over 150,000 men and nearly 30,000 vehicles across the channel to the French beaches. Six parachute regiments — over 13,000 men — were flown from nine British airfields in over 800 planes. More than 300 planes dropped 13,000 bombs over coastal Normandy immediately in advance of the invasion.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/dday/sfeature/sf_info.html)
Paratroopers would drop at 1am. Would the weather hold? At a height of only 300 feet. In the dark. The wet. Think fast.
Men in PT boats would race toward shore. Many would get close. Some would fall short. As soldiers poured out, the 70 pound packs would sink and drown many who thought the sand lay directly beneath.
By nightfall, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers would be dead or wounded, but more than 100,000 would make it ashore, securing French coastal villages previously held hostage by Hitler’s regime.
These were depression kids. The scrappy boys that had learned to make it on their own. Those innate tricks of survival. Could there be a better training ground to prepare them for the impossible? Amidst perilous conditions? And a ruthless world tyrant to boot? Truly, a fearful task.
Those who made it through the depression learned to have a great deal of resilience and learned how to make due with what they had or could find. Older men today, if you spend time with them, are proof still that people back then were able to make the most amazing things our of the littlest stuff. What they were able to come up with was nothing short of impressive. No wonder we call them The Greatest Generation. Shaped by The Great Depression
One vet, Jim Norene, a member of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, had come alone for one last anniversary, despite having stage-four advanced cancer. Though gravely ill, he was determined to make it back to France for the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Just one more time. After he landed (in a fashion much different then his first landing), he was able to visit the American cemetery the evening before Saturday’s ceremony. Jim never made it to the ceremony, that night, he passed away in his sleep.
This man, who returned to remember and honor his buddies would not have wanted it any other way. How poignant that he was able to return to the same shores where he and his pals had said good bye only to have the ironic privilege of rejoining them from the same soil that had prematurely taken their very young lives. Now, this ailing veteran and his band of brothers could truly rest in peace. Together.
May we remember.