June 6, 1944: the day the world turned
Today is June 6.
In military history, the history of the free world, there may be no date more important. It is, of course, D-Day.
Dec. 7, 1941, happened to us, and it will indeed live in infamy. But on June 6, 1944, we made the brave decision, we took the battle into the teeth of fascism, we - and our brave allies of the British Empire - rose to make our most ambitious, potentially disasterous, challenge to date against the evil force that threatened humanity.
We all (or should) know the general story of D-Day. It was, and remains, the largest amphibious invasion in history: 150,000 men - Americans, British and Canadians primarily - and 5,000 ships. The goal was to crack the German forces in Northwestern France, establish a beachhead which would enable our forces to eventually move through Europe and defeat Hitler's Germany.
It was a bloody, violent day. Nearly 10,000 Allied soldiers gave their lives. Yet, it was ultimately a successful, heroic day.
While historians largely call it the beginning of the end of the war, the Germans didn't initially see it that way. In a sense, they welcomed it. It kept them from having to do something similar, invade Britain. This brought the fight to their heavily fortified forces, where they could defeat the Brits and rapidly crush the spirit of the Americans, whose fighting acumen and patriotism they didn't highly respect. The Allies were now on their soil (occupied France) where Germany's superior armored capacity could beat back and grind down their enemy.
They were wrong, of course.
It was the beginning of the end of the Nazis, of Hitler, and his unfathomly evil regime. Within a year - after a brutal winter of '44-'45, which included the Germans' last-ditch counter attacks of the Battle of the Bulge - the war was over. With the Americans and Brits liberating land from the west, and the Soviet Army squeezing from the east, Germany was squashed. In April, 10 months after D-Day, Hitler committed suicide.
June 6 is one of the most important dates in military history, but also in the history of freedom and democracy. Long may it be remembered and honored.
Here at the Pioneer, our general editor Susan Matheny has made it a personal quest to tell the stories of the men who, as boys, served during that critical time in our nation's history - World War II.
For years now, Susan has tracked down many of those guys, all either in their 70s or 80s, and listened to their war stories. The chronicling of those stories is some of the best, most interesting, and most important work our paper has produced. All of the subjects presented rich kernels of history carried for decades inside their hearts and minds, shared as they returned to their days as scared yet brave young men, some still teenagers.
Over the past several years, around Veterans Day or Memorial Day, Susan endeavored to have a story on a local veteran of WWII, with some Korean War vets mixed in. Offhand, I could remember seven or eight guys who had been chronicled, including D-Day veteran Clinton Crandall. I asked Susan if she could recall more than that. She did a quick search of our archives. She's wrote out of list of 26 names. I couldn't believe it at first, 26 stories, but upon seeing their names, I remembered nearly every one.
Her most recent was just last week, an excellent piece on Bob Lundy and his days as a bomber in the South Pacific during WWII.
It's somewhat a personal quest for Susan to get such stories told before they pass away, to honor these people. On this D-Day, I wanted to note those stories, and how they fit into what the Pioneer tries to contribute to the community. Of all the information, stories and profiles we produce, those are some of the most valuable, most important, most deserved.
If you know of World War II vets who make Jefferson County home, let Susan know. If for no other reason, so we can note their name and service on Veterans Day. For that matter, Korean War vets, too. That war was essentially 60 years ago, and those guys are in their 80s too, or pushing very close to it.
It's so vitally important that we remember all those who have served this nation - certainly on this day, June 6, one of the most important in the history of the United States, and of the free world.