Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I Cannot Imagine...


The 5th of June 1944, after standing down on the previous day, the airborne again moved to their C-47s, their gliders, again they kitted up. Checked each other over. Letters were written, some were the last letters those young men would ever write.

I cannot imagine the nervousness they felt, the anticipation. Some were combat veterans, many were not, would they cut it, how would they behave in battle? I marvel to this day at the bravery of those young men, some barely out of high school.

Young men boarded their aircraft, young Americans, young Brits, all bound for the areas behind the Normandy beaches. All ready to jump into the darkness, into the unknown. The men in their gliders, soon to slip quietly out of the night to seize Pegasus bridge.

Brave men, as ready as they would ever be to face the Hell of battle.




The 6th of June, 1944, off the wet, storm-tossed coast of Normandy, the men climbed down the cargo nets into their assigned landing craft. Pitching and rolling in the swell, they huddled together as the Navy and Coast Guard coxswains steered the small craft towards the beach.

Where the Germans waited, fingers on the triggers of their machine guns and rifles, waiting for the enemy to get closer.


Artillery fire churned the waters of the Channel, small geysers erupting where the first machine gun rounds sought the soft cargo inside the small steel boats. The men crouched, many shaking with sea sickness, and fear, the ever present fear of imminent combat, for only the insane do not fear battle.

The artillery began to find the range, turning landing craft into burning nightmares. The first bullets begin to ping off the steel, soon the ramps would drop and the troops would attempt to survive the Hell which waited for them.


Be forewarned, do not watch the following video if the sight of realistic combat bothers you. It is Hellish, it is realistic, not for the faint of heart. The first time I watched this movie, nearly nineteen years ago, in a theater filled with active duty military, the tension in the theater was palpable. As we left the theater, it was a very somber crowd.



I cannot imagine what those men faced seventy-four years ago on this day. Most of them are gone now, even those who were but seventeen on that day, having enlisted with their parents' permission (how many would have signed knowing what their sons would face) are now ninety-one. Their days are quickly coming to a close.

But once upon a time, they stormed Fortress Europe to end the Thousand Year Reich of Hitler's demented dreams. Americans, British, Canadians, French, Poles, and others all did their bit to topple the Nazi empire.

I cannot imagine what they went through, I cannot thank them enough.


Far too many paid the ultimate price and never came home.

I will never forget them.



94 comments:

  1. Ya....cannot thank them enough so the least I can do is remember them. After the war it appears we kept enough land in Italy and Germany,apart from bases, to bury our dead. How many other conquerors did that? Note on the second photo, like how someone scuffed out words after:"you had your turn you German.. smudged.. smudged.. swinehunds". Got a chuckle from that. A somber thoughtful post Sarge. Too many crosses and stars in the cemetery.

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    1. Visiting that cemetery should be on everyone's bucket list. Solemn but beautiful place. Good place to reflect on what's important in life and what we should pay any price to keep.

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  2. I truly cannot imagine the courage it took to run into the firestorm they faced. America had a lot of MEN back then.

    That airplane quote was censored, I'd bet. So the civies back home wouldn't have their sensibilities offended, while their sons were going through the meat grinder....

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    1. Yup, we had lots of "toxic" masculinity back then, good thing too.

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    2. Truly, most of the men had no real idea of what they would be facing that day since they'd never faced it before. Some had, but in lesser degree in the Med. If most landing craft suffered like the one in the movie SPR, Omaha would've failed. Most didn't suffer that badly, thank God! There was certainly some severe foreshortening of the range between the bluffs and where the landing craft beached. It was terrible, but if all of the beaches had been held by infantry of the quality of most of the 352nd, we might not have established a viable beachhead. By noon that day, the Germans though Omaha was contained and were redirecting units eastward towards the Brits and Canadians. They certainly had the combat power near at hand to hold the Brits, and collapse Omaha. It was a near-run thing, all in all.

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  3. I went to Normandy last year as part of a cruise. Just incredible in many ways.I was very impressed while at the cemetery behind Omaha Beach to see groups of French school children touring the cemetery. They were respectful and quiet. Unfortunately I doubt our own school children are so informed or well behaved; and the very thought of taking them to a veteran's cemetery to pay their respects is probably anathema to many teachers and administrators.

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    1. I know, it's sad.

      We went to Arlington once to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb, oldest granddaughter in tow. She was, I think, six at the time, but she understood what Arlington was, she was quiet and attentive as we sat before the Tomb of the Unknowns. Perhaps it helps to have military parents. She also was with us when I stopped by Rosecrans to pay my respects to Lex. I'll never forget her question, "Why did he have to die Grandpa?"

      She kind of understands now, I know she will understand fully in time, her parents are raising her well. Would that all Americans could do the same.

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    2. In January we were at Punchbowl, in Honolulu. There were kids there. You coulda heard a pin drop.

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    3. Gives me hope, some parents still get it.

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  4. I truly cannot imagine the intestinal fortitude that these young men had to do what, at face value, looked impossible! They have my thanks, my respect and my gratitude. The movie referenced was difficult to watch, but it represents the true horror of war, rather than the glorified stuff we too often see.

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    1. I was somewhat reluctant to post that scene, due to the gore, but I think we need to be reminded from time to time, just what it was that those young men faced on that day. It makes those rows of crosses and stars all the more meaningful.

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    2. +1, Sarge. Post it. We do need to be reminded. Reminded also that this is that 'blank check' that every veteran signed, being cashed in full. That we must carry on to insure that their sacrifice is not pissed away.

      Those white crosses. When I was in uniform, there was something floating around in the back of my mind that I couldn't quite put into words at the time. That came later. It goes like this---being a young man coming of age, when it was my turn to toe the line and stand a post, I could not imagine (to borrow your phrase) standing in front of those crosses and saying "It's too hard" or "I have other plans" or some other BS excuse. My only thought would have been "Rest in peace, brothers. I got this".

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    3. The horrible thing about SPR is that many of its scenes and 'sets' were based on actual combat film and photos. The first 19 minutes was like watching many of the books I read come back to life. The scenes dealing with the glider landings were equally as horrible.

      The horrors of war, brought to life. I was bawling during the first battle scene.

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    4. Dead silent in a theater with active duty guys and some retirees. The tension was real.

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    5. It was definitely a somber audience leaving the theater when my wife and I saw it way back when. It could've gone wrong in so many ways, just like Dieppe. Had most landing craft suffered as badly as the boats in SPR, I've no doubt it would've ended like Dieppe. Too many did, though, and Omaha was a near-run affair. However, had Omaha failed, it's very likely the isolated Utah landings could've been contained and collapsed, and the British/Canadian landings, already contained by 12th SS and others, would've been compelled to withdraw under siege conditions.

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  5. I think Proof might have the quote of the day.

    "History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.'
    -Dwight D. Eisenhower

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    1. Saw that, true it was, true it remains.

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  6. A couple of years ago, we were privileged to board a retired marine. He was having all sorts of problems that required us to a) hide a lot of things and b) for us to be there any time of the night or day. It was a long hard row to hoe, but our friend is happily making his own way in the world today quite successfully. He credits us with saving his life. I just feel that we did what we could and stood by him no matter what. What I got out of the whole thing was a very deep and abiding sense of the 'real' cost that is too often paid by these warriors. My respect and admiration is all the greater.

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    1. A cost that often isn't recognized.

      Thanks for doing that Finandel.

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    2. Their bodies don't just fill the cemetaries. Many of them are still walking amongst us, just as dead as those that fall. They are waiting for their bodies to die, as their minds have already done.

      Finandel, people like you are special. Thank you and all those like you for your aid to our fallen.

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  7. Ya know, looking at the chalk on the glider, it looks like schweinhund (they wrote it 'swinhunds'?) was written at least twice. I wonder if some busy-body did in fact 'sensor' it, only to have it magically re-appear each time. That would warm the heart of any trooper.

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    1. Or it's possible they couldn't decide on the spelling...

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    2. My first glance at the pic made me think it was rubbed out because it was the English spelling of Scheißkopf.

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    3. Beans, I met an old gentleman at Clark AB when I was in the hospital after a surgery. He'd been a a National Guardsman sent to the PI in mid-1941, and survived the Bataan Death March. He was not altogether right in the head and according to staff was a frequent flyer at the hospital and had been for a long, long time. Quite a nice old fellow, but also quite pleasantly cracked. But any mention of the Japanese and he'd start quivering with rage. I met up with him during one of his lucid periods and bought a couple of beers for him at the Airmens Club. Had I not been in uniform, I doubt he'd have told me anything of his time at Camp O'Donnell, and I'd not have asked him, either. But he was quite free volunteering his hatred of "Japs", and also with his affection for young Filipino nurses.

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    4. Understandable.

      Both things.

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  8. I've been to Leavenworth National Cemetery, and Dallas too. Paid my respects to the dead at Pearl on my honeymoon. And I have seen countless small memorials in small towns in Britain to their various-wars dead. But sadly, I have never been to the cemeteries in France.

    Of course were we to travel to Europe, my personal plan would be to take our kids to the War cemeteries, and the concentration camps, so they could truly begin to understand the scope of the losses. And if I ever return to Britain (unlikely, but I can dream, right?) it will be with a good digital camera, and my goal will be to get good photographs of every small town memorial I encounter. I've wanted to do that since '85.

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    1. I noticed those memorials on my trip to Scotland last year. Pretty impressive. Also a tad depressive to see the long list of dead from very small villages (primarily WWI, but also subsequent) and realize the ongoing effect that has on the village. All the children they did not have and the grandchildren and...It was/is sobering.

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  9. IIRC I asked this time last year when you put that IKE/101st pic up the question: "Wonder how many of the men in that pic survived the war?" More to the point, wonder how many in ANY WW II historical photos actually survived the War? A sobering thought..

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    1. Or... of those who survive, how many survive today? As Sarge said, a 17 yr old on D-day would be 91 today. And he'd be a youngster.

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    2. Virgil - I remember that comment. As I wrote this post, as I looked at those photos, I did think, "How many of those guys lived through the war? How many are still alive?"

      Sobering indeed.

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    3. Juvat - soon they will all "belong to the ages."

      I will not forget them, even when the last one passes. I hope to pass those memories on to the grandkids.

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  10. Band of Brothers is such an incredibly wonderful and powerful series. I'm glad those men of the greatest generation were willing to sacrifice themselves for our freedom. I'm not sure today's young men would do it, at least not in the numbers required.

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    1. "...in the numbers required." Sad innit?

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    2. I disagree. How many have joined, since 9-11, knowing they are going to see combat? Not drafted, but voluntarily joined? And pushed to get into Rangers, Green Berets, SEALS, ParaJumpers and other high-intensity combat units? Or in support units that see horrible combat without all the training and equipment of their SOF brothers?

      Our current 'greatest generation' has stepped forward, has charged fulsomely towards combat, while so many of their fellows in the 'least generation' shrug away. Fought, lived, died in combat with nebulous ghosts, who fade into the population.

      Contrary to what is reported, most are not like that thing that is running for Congress who spilled secrets to our enemies, or the other one who was radicalized and was exchanged for a handful of theirs. (Names of these treacherous scum will not be mentioned on this day, a day when only true warriors and heroes should be mentioned.)

      They make me proud. These men and women who actively volunteer, who live, fight and die, in camps, in convoys, trying

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    3. There are enough for these small wars. Make no mistake, as costly as they are, these are small wars.

      But on the scale of WWII? I don't know. I just don't know. Manning in the Navy right now is not good, repeat, not good. Shortages of personnel, equipment, parts, you name it. The Air Force, from what I understand, is even worse. This comes from 20+ years of mismanagement and stupidity at the highest levels.

      If we get into a serious conflict with a near peer? Who knows...

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    4. Sarge, I'm gonna correct you and suggest deleting "mismanagement and". "Stupidity at the highest level" is the reason. Mismanagement is a resultant effect. One of a plethora of resultant effects of the Stupidity.

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    5. I stand corrected. And I concur with the correction.

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    6. Given the horrible opportunity, I think the current generation would step up. And learn. Yes, there are a lot of panty-wasted crybabies, but there are so many unreported normals out there. It is from that pool, the quiet ones that walk by the Hoggettes during press releases, the ones that don't join 'community organizations of a less-than-legal nature.' It is. perhaps, the failure of the 'highest level' not to invoke the 'Great Crusade' clause against the small wars that affect so many. That is what I was referring to.

      And, as to the feckless, useless 'highest level' that has consistently failed those below them, well, wait. We're at the beginning of a war, and we need to get rid of our very own 'Captains of the Gloriouses.'

      Navy manning levels have been affected by such stupid things as diversity and inclusiveness, not to mention the extremely hazardous conditions all of our ships and planes and tanks and bases are in due to so many years of deferred maintenance. Now we are paying for that. And, really, all the service are suffering the same illness. When a boy-girl commits open treason and gets a White House pardon, or another loser deserter gets a pardon, while good men get punished for little things or even for saving the lives of their men, why, why would anyone volunteer for any of that? Fix the services, and you'll get the young people. Fix the services and you'll retain those who are in.

      An example is my nephew. Joined the Air Force hoping to try out to be a PJ. Didn't make it, that's okay, worked at a construction battalion. His active duty unit had no gas, no parts, no new equipment. They 'secretly' trained with the National Guard units that did have all the gas, all the parts, all the equipment. He did 4 years, trying his best, sitting on his ass stateside, with promotions deadlined. Finally got totally disgruntled and left. Joined the FL Nat Guard, now he's been promoted twice, being considered for full-time active duty, and been deployed twice. He's been to more training, more field exercises, more work as a 'weekend warrior' and in better conditions than he ever saw in the 'active duty' service. Why? How can we even think of retaining or enlisting new if this is the way we treat them (by the way, Nephew almost quit Boot Camp because of all the PC carp that made the whole experience toxic, from being lightweight towards the boots to class after class of touchy-feely bullscat.) This has to stop. The military should be about breaking hearts and breaking things, not about 'all the shades of the rainbow.'

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    7. Beans, as to your first comment, it's not about the courage of those who have stepped up, it's regarding my belief in just how many fine men and women we have that would step up if we were faced with something like WWII again. Recruiting goals are rarely easy to meet, we rarely have our pick of the litter when it comes to our recruits (out of standards, medicated, drug waivers), and they aren't beating down the door. Sure, plenty joined after 9-11, but it would take a lot to convince me that the sacrifices our WWII fighters and families made could be duplicated today.

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    8. A tough call, I have hope, but...

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    9. Tuna, I think many would step up, and many would not avoid a draft if we enacted that particular horror again. But what we need to do is distill all the carp and garbage that has permutated throughout the services, the backwards, expensive, useless procurement system, the idiotic reliance on wunderweapons that are still 30 years away from working (not saying to stop pushing the envelope, but, dammit, acquire the next gen, not the next next vaporware gen.) Get the services back to what they are supposed to be, all about attack and defense, all about force projection and force protection. And give our children and children's children, and all the active duty and reserves and guard units the military they, and our nation, deserve and need.

      It sickens me to watch our current generation go through the meat grinder of enlistment, basic training, advanced training, base life and combat with their hands tied behind them and their heads covered by too much regulation and pc stupidity. Sorry, if our best go to war, the rules should be, "Go!" Same with training, "Go!" Same with, well, all aspects of military life. No more emphasis on plaster saints. No more pushing for pure good-think, for diversity, for whatever agenda driven good word program is in vogue in the civilian world. I want my military to be rough, somewhat obnoxious, barely unrestrained fury ready to explode in a focused manner. We need 'good' soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coasties. Wait, we need the 'best' rough people for a rough world. Give our children that chance, with proper material support, ships and planes that aren't on the edge of falling apart, then our children will respond with a huge surge.

      Now, this revitalization of the military also goes hand in hand with revitalization of our schools. Get them off of common-core or 'everyone at the same speed' classes. Put back physical education, daily. Make the little scamps walk at least a block from the busses or drop-offs to the school. Fresh air, sunshine, phased classes, like we used to have (and I am saying this from an allergy-ridden body that saw me missing school for 2-3 weeks in the fall and in the spring, yes, that bad of allergies. When I wasn't allergy ridden, I was riding a bike over 6-20 miles a day, for fun, so there.)

      That, that is what I am talking about.

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    10. Tuna raises some good points, while I haven't lost hope (I know a lot of the kids serving now are as good as any the nation has ever fielded) I still have nightmares about some of the what ifs. There are a lot of clueless folks out there who just assume that life will go on and it's not for them to worry.

      I pray push doesn't come to shove.

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    11. One last thought, I know that there are still many great Americans out there, both young and old. I sure wish the media would tells us about them instead of all the SJWs and snowflakes.

      Sigh...

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  11. According to the unit history file I was able to read in 1966, the unit I was in was at Normandy. The unit designation changed over the years but stayed in Germany until the 1970's when they moved to Ft. Polk.

    Many of those landing at Normandy had never been in combat. Can any amount of training prepare someone for that experience? What a testament to their courage and perseverance.

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    1. I had that thought WSF, you can't really be ready for combat until you've seen combat.

      Courage and perseverance indeed.

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  12. All those men, fighting over ancient lands. I wonder how many of them knew that they were striding, struggling, falling on land tied to another successful invasion, but going the opposite way?

    In September, 1066, the vast Norman conquest fleet sailed, much like the airborne invasion, for a second time, from the excellent shelving beaches and harbors from Barfleur on the northeast tip of the Cotentin peninsula to Le Havre. The very beaches and towns so many, almost 980 years later, would die on, would have their lives changed forever on, and change the world forever on.

    I imagine those warriors had much of the same thoughts. "Will I die today?" "Am I worthy?" "Where will I end up?"

    And for many of the same reasons, for Justice, for Vengeance.

    But, in 1944, the Invasion was for higher values of Conquest. For the saving of humanities' souls, for the rescue of, well, the western Civilized World, for freedom from a horrible tyranny.

    So much ancient history, tied to death, in one little corner of the world. Hallowed grounds to some, being fought over and becoming hallowed grounds for many, for the world itself. Over the years seeing waging armies roll back and forth in futile attempts of conquest.

    A somber day. One full of much introspection. Rest in Piece, all you who touched the land of Normandy. May your sacrifices, old and new, guide us all to a better place.

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  13. Thank you. One of the best 6 June tributes I have read.

    Re ' Saving Pvt. Ryan ', I have watched that movie, once. You are right, I believe that it comes closest to depicting what it was like as is possible in a film. I'm glad I watched it, but I will never watch it again.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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  14. Local newspaper has a rerun of Charles Schulz June 6th panel with Snoopy coming ashore.....jes saying...

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    1. There are a few Peanuts cartoons featuring Snoopy on D-day. I have two favorites, in one Snoopy is standing in the foreground of the picture with Ike talking to the paratroopers. The other is very much like one of the few photos Frank Capra took on the beach, I think he went in with the first wave. Charles Schulz got it.

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  15. Cemeteries.
    I was coming back from the eye doctor today and thinking about this post.
    As I drove home I noticed small American flags in a church cemetery in Abington Pennsylvania, that I hadn't ever visited and I went in to say hello to the vets.
    Sadly I couldn't great the veterans of the Revolutionary War by name, as most of the headstones were unreadable.
    I did meet a United States Marine Corps veteran of the Indian wars. His name was Captain James McCawley and Captain McCawley died in February of 1939.
    Captain McCawley's son, Colonel Charles Grymes McCawley, USMC, went on to be a Commandant of the United States Marine Corps and died in October of 1891 and is buried next to his father.
    I was also able to say hello to a veteran from the War of 1812 as well as several vets from the Civil War.
    As I was leaving, I knelt to brush some grass away from a flat marker and found I was cleaning the marker of Lt. Charles L. Comfort of the Army of the Confederacy. Lt. Comfort lived until 1913 and I am sure there is a great story somewhere about how he came to be buried among the D*** Yankees in Pennsylvania.
    I had to sit in the car for quite a while before I could see straight enough to drive.
    I am amazed by who you meet when you walk through these tiny cemeteries.
    I had to stop a couple of times while typing this 'cause I could no longer see the screen.
    No BS about pollen. I was crying.
    Great, great post.

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    1. Thanks John.

      Yeah, visiting those who went before in their final resting place is pretty dusty work.

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    2. That picture with Ike and #23, I've always wondered if that kid was torn between wishing he was on the plane and away from the General and wishing the General would never stop talking. I also wondered if he survived the next day or so.

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    3. The tall paratrooper is 1LT Wallace C. Strobel according to this website. He survived the war and died in 1999.

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    4. From talking to men who actually were in the presence of Ike, he was very much admired by pert-near everyone. He got it. He had that connection with his troops that great commanders have.

      I think part of what made him so great was his deep abiding faith.

      Ike was definitely not a chair-warming puzzle-palace paperwork despot. I wonder how much the strain of June 4th to June 7th aged him. Years? Centuries?

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    5. Yes, indeed. The decisions he had to make, the strain of the alliance, all must have been very taxing.

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  16. Thanks for the post.

    The lead C-47, named "That's All, Brother!" has recently been restored and is flying again.

    She, and a couple of other C-47's that also carried troops, are on display for the anniversary this year.

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  17. Talk about pressure. Think of this: If the invasion had failed, it wouldn't have mattered if Ike had shined the shoes of every troop daily, personally cooked their meals and pressed their uniforms daily, he would have taken all the blame, but he could have slept til noon every day, played golf all afternoon and drank all night long as long as the invasion was successful. The make or break decision by IKE and IKE alone to go on 6 June despite HIGHLY uncertain/iffy wx projections simply HAS to be one of the greatest hi-pressure command decisions in history...MacArthur was SO right: "...in war there is no substitute for victory."

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    1. And...no excuse for defeat ( although they usually try to make one.)

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    2. And he was ready to take personal responsibility for any failure.

      http://www.businessinsider.com/d-day-in-case-of-failure-letter-by-general-eisenhower-2012-6

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    3. Wow, that letter brings back memories. He was one Hell of a commander.

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    4. My grandfather actually served with Ike in Panama. There's a unit photo (somewhere) with my grandfather (one of the troops) kneeling (or sitting, it's been a long time since I've seen the photo) and Ike is in the left background. I think he was a major at the time.

      A lot of family artifacts were lost when my grandmother died. Wish we still had that photo.

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    5. And that is why we owe Kay Summersby a debt of gratitude.

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    1. They certainly did.

      Unfortunately, it seems they didn't destroy The Ring.

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    2. As to The One Ring, I wish I had an answer there. As long as we humans allow ourselves to be ruled by power-grasping, greedy idiots, it won't end.

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    3. Sadly, some of our social dynamics are so deeply ingrained in our DNA that I don't think we'll ever escape that, any more than we'll ever completely escape the lure of socialism (at least in the next few centuries, maybe millenia). It works pretty well at the tribal band level where most of a few dozen people are related to one another, but it doesn't scale. Not that even in a tribal band, there aren't high and low status people, but that no one will go very much hungrier than anyone else if they're honestly trying. If they're not, then they will be driven out or even killed, but it's really rare for that to be needed.

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    4. I think you've hit the nail on the head there Larry.

      It's tough to change the lessons learned over thousands of years. Even when they don't scale worth a damn.

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  19. Eloquently said. Thank you.

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  20. Circling back i'm thinking that that single photo really does encapsulate not only the entire operation, but the entire war effort--the sense of urgency, the readiness, the devotion to duty, courage, willingness to sacrifice--its got it all. The old saying is right, sometimes a picture IS worth 10, 000 words..

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    1. PS: And the more I look at that photo, the more tears come to my eyes just thinking of how many hopes and dreams were bound up by those men and what they represented. Just like one doesn't have time to be scared until after the msn/action, when I was younger I didn't overly dwell on the significance of such photos, but now? Well my God..

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    2. Yes, that photo really does show that generation in their finest hour.

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    3. As to the P.S. - that photo always leaves me a bit breathless. I looked up to those men as a kid, the WWII vets were very much my heroes.

      Thinking back in my dotage, we both probably served with guys just like them. The same dedication and devotion as evidenced in that photo.

      Damn it, allergies are acting up at the moment...

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  21. I've just noticed that two of the British paratroopers boarding the glider are holding crash axes. I guess they expected they would have to hack their way out of the glider to get to the fighting.

    Al_in_Ottawa

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    1. I noticed the way on the left, a relook and I see the guy on the right in the door holding one as well!

      Well, we've all seen the pictures of the wrecked gliders after action, Normandy and in Holland, I think one of those axes would be nice to have at hand!

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    2. I hadn't remembered that until mentioned. When I saw that pic as a kid, I thought that those were British versions of tomahawks, "Cool!" Well, after you get out the glider, a tomahawk could come in handy...

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    3. Heh, especially when the tool has a dual use as a weapon.

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