D-Day plus 69 years

Thursday - 6/6/2013, 2:00am EDT

Sixty-nine years ago today, hundreds of thousands of American, Canadian and British soldiers hit the beaches at Normandy. The casualties were horrific. More people were lost in a few hours there than have been killed or wounded in both Afghanistan and Iraq in a dozen years of warfare.

The Americans had Omaha and Utah beaches. The British- Canadians had Sword, Juno and Gold beaches. Hours before the landing, 23,000 British and American paratroopers dropped behind German lines facing the Atlantic beaches. Their commanders were anticipating 60 percent casualties.

It was for many, truly, the longest day.

A long-time family friend, Phil Phillips, was there with his brother George. They were medics. From Shamokin, Pa. Big, tough, nice kids. They were with the 29th division, the blue-gray. It was made up of National Guard units from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They took very heavy casualties the first few days, and through the rest of the campaign. There was a steady stream of telegrams to parents and spouses in small towns up and down the East Coast.

They were and are our fathers, grandfathers and in some cases great-grandfathers. And mothers, too, who did everything from medical services to ferrying (as in flying in) aircraft into combat zones. The phrase "Greatest Generation" says it all.

The tiny town of Bedford, Va., (pop. 3,000) was especially hard hit. It lost more sons and fathers (22) in one day than any other town. Its story has been told a lot.

But probably still not enough.

I've been to Normandy and have seen the beaches. It is a beautiful place, even with all those seemingly endless rows of crosses and Star of David markers. It is one place in France, trust me, where Americans are very, very welcome indeed. Many of the locals, kids at the time, remember or have been often told what went on.

Americans, Brits, Canadians, Dutch, Poles, Free French, Indians, and South Africans were in the fight too all over the world. My father was in New Guinea. One uncle was in the Solomons. Another uncle was in North Africa and still another on a destroyer on Atlantic convoy duty. They were on the way to Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped.

When I started at The Washington Post as a very, very young reporter most of my editors were WW II vets. An Irish-Jewish-Polish-Italian melting post. Mostly city kids. Real men who had literally been there and done that. For them, a four-alarm fire, even a bombing, was not that big a deal. They were great mentors. The mildest of them all, I found out much later, had won the Silver Star at the Battle of the Bulge.

Those who made it back from the war are, today, very old men and women. They are dying off at the rate of about 1,000 per day. You see them coming into National, Dulles and BWI airports on special honor flights to see the World War II memorial. Most for the first time. All, probably for the last time.

If you see one, or a group, give them a salute.

Especially today.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

A change to state law has deprived the German language of its longest word: (take a deep breath) Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which translates into "beef labelling monitoring assessment assignment law." The word was created in 1999 as part of a law designed to coordinate the testing of beef for mad cow disease. However, new rules from the European Union have dropped the old legal requirements, thus rescinding the use of the term.

(Source: The Local)


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