These men saved the world

“OK. We’ll go.”

U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower didn’t posses the gift of flowery rhetoric. Nor was he the type of officer to bark out orders in dramatic, fiery fashion.

With that simple decision, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe gave the signal to launch the greatest and perhaps most decisive amphibious assault in world history.

The invasion would occur on June 6, 1944. U.S. and British warships led a bombardment of the French coast at Normandy. Then the men took off from those ships aboard landing craft and hit five beachheads.

They began the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny that overcast morning.

PBS’s American Experience has told the story of that momentous act. The link to it is attached here:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/dday/

Ike wrestled with whether to launch the invasion. It had been planned for the previous day, but inclement weather kept the airplanes out of the sky; the English Channel water between Britain and France was too rough. The general had to postpone. The next day, the weather broke and the invasion was on.

Thousands of ships, tens of thousands of men, and many thousands of tons of equipment stormed ashore.

The men — forces from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, Poland and other allied nations — took part. They secured the coast and began the long slog through France, Belgium, The Netherlands and finally into Germany.

American Experience, PBS’s award-winning documentary series, tells the story of the preparation, the setbacks along the way, the mistakes that occurred on that fateful day and finally the triumph that would come nearly a year later as Germany would surrender.

***

There’s been some debate for the past seven decades about whether D-Day was the decisive battle of the war. The Soviet Union’s Red Army was fighting its way west toward Germany as the Allies landed in France. The Soviets, and later the Russians, claim their role in defeating Adolf Hitler was more important. Russian textbooks downplay the Normandy invasion and speak to the courage of the soldiers fighting on the Eastern Front. Yes, the courage of the Russians was undeniable.

D-Day, though, opened that “second front” and ultimately smashed the Nazi war machine. Those of us on this side of the fighting have accepted — correctly, in my view — that Normandy served as the backbreaker.

The beginning of Europe’s freedom began the moment Gen. Eisenhower gave the order: OK. We’ll go.

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