Lessons of D-Day never fade

Modern weaponry ensures that there won’t ever be U.S. involvement in another invasion like the one on this date 75 years ago, when Allied forces during World War II began their liberation of Europe on the beaches of Normandy, France.

However, there are people in the United States and other countries today who disagree with an observation made in the May 28, 1984, issue of Time magazine, which was devoted in large part to the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, referred to on the magazine’s cover as “the Great Crusade.”

The article preceding the main account of how the D-Day invasion was readied and carried out successfully four decades earlier made the point that “it is difficult for history, more than once every few centuries, to invent a villain like (Adolf) Hitler and then propel him to such enormous power.

“The bad guys are rarely so horrible,” the article continues.

Today, many people watching and lamenting the seemingly endless violence, turmoil, threatening dialogue and human suffering in the world might be tempted to wonder whether, among this planet’s peoples, a villainous leader, or perhaps more than one, in control of nuclear weapons, might someday try to unleash a toll of death and destruction much bigger than that promulgated by Hitler.

However, confronting such a leader or leaders will not entail the kind of military assault — primitive by today’s possibilities — that took place on France’s beaches three-quarters of a century ago.

Today’s Mirror, and other newspapers across this land, while marking the anniversary of the D-Day invasion and celebrating its success, nonetheless cannot depict fully the gut-wrenching fears and apprehension surrounding the invasion preparations.

Those fears and that apprehension existed right up to the moment when, shortly after 10 p.m. on June 5, twin-engine aircraft carrying paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division began taking off at seven-second intervals, aiming — but in some instances failing — to deliver those paratroopers to drop locations that had been designated for them.

The May 28, 1984, Time recounted what U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Allied Expeditionary Forces supreme commander, was feeling right up to the moment when the invasion commenced. He and other generals knew that success wasn’t guaranteed.

One Allied leader had expressed fear that the invasion “may well be the most ghastly disaster of the whole war.”

Meanwhile, Eisenhower, who stood watching as planes carrying the 101st Airborne took off, was described by a correspondent standing near him as having eyes full of tears.

On the afternoon of that day, after Eisenhower watched the first troop convoys preparing to depart for Normandy, the general, who in less than a decade would be elected president of the United States, scribbled a note for himself, in case the invasion ended in disaster.

It read in part:

“Our landings … have failed … the troops, the Air and Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

In the end, thankfully, that message and its acceptance of awful responsibility did not need to be delivered; the invasion ultimately achieved its objective, albeit with a big loss of life.

Today is a day to remember and appreciate, but it’s also a day for wary contemplation about what the future might hold.

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