Young Amer­i­can Men Tested On D-Day

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - OPINION - David Wil­son Learn­ing Ev­ery Day

To­day is June 6. And on this date in 1944 the largest invasion in his­tory took place when Al­lied mil­i­tary forces be­gan a mas­sive and bloody en­try into the main­land of Eu­rope in World War II.

In his­tory it is sim­ply called D-Day, and most of us should know about it from school. But in many cases, we can also know about D-Day from the his­tory of our own fam­ily.

That’s be­cause many Amer­i­can men as young as 18 and 19 years old were tested on that day and on the many days of war that fol­lowed.

They were your grand­fa­thers, great-grand­fa­thers, un­cles, and great-un­cles.

They were some of Amer­ica’s very best young cit­i­zens, ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion even in the midst of a ter­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The late his­to­rian Stephen Am­brose wrote and lec­tured ex­ten­sively about it, ex­plain­ing that many things went ter­ri­bly wrong when the troops hit the beaches in France.

Mas­sive num­bers of men were killed and many more were pinned down by a con­stant bar­rage of ma­chine gun fire. They were un­able to go forward.

Con­fu­sion pre­vailed among the Al­lied ranks. Many of­fi­cers were dead and there were cases in which a cor­po­ral or even a pri­vate had to take charge.

Am­brose said that at that point the youth of Amer­ica was put to the test.

Even though they were afraid for their lives, they charged forward and fought their way up­hill to be­gin neu­tral­iz­ing the en­emy.

“This was the tri­umph of democ­racy,” Am­brose said.

Most of Eu­rope had been con­trolled by Nazi Ger­many for at least four years, but on June 6 the lib­er­a­tion of a con­ti­nent be­gan.

Un­der Gen­eral Dwight D. Eisen­hower, D-Day had been planned for two years, and it in­volved the armed of sev­eral coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States, Great Bri­tain, and Canada.

When it was time to go, attacks were un­leashed from the air, from the sea, and on the ground.

Stories abound, and many have never been of­fi­cially chron­i­cled in the an­nals of his­tory.

I was re­cently re­minded of this when I was watch­ing a video of Dr. Am­brose lec­tur­ing about D-Day and the days of fight­ing af­ter­wards.

When he pointed to a map to show how the armies of Gen­eral Ge­orge Pat­ton be­gan their thrust into Ger­man-con­trolled France, I thought of my great-un­cle Benny.

Benny was one of 10 sib­lings in the Blanken­ship fam­ily in Arkansas. One of Un­cle Benny’s sis­ters was my ma­ter­nal grand­mother, or sim­ply “Granny” to me.

Granny once told me that Un­cle Benny was in D-Day un­der Gen­eral Pat­ton, but she was slightly mis­taken.

Benny Blanken­ship was a part of Pat­ton’s army all right, but nei­ther Un­cle Benny or Gen­eral Pat­ton were ac­tu­ally in the June 6 invasion. They came into France to join the fight in the days that fol­lowed.

My grand­fa­ther told me that dur­ing the war his brother-in-law Benny drove an army truck that hauled sup­plies. Ev­ery­where that Pat­ton went in Eu­rope, Un­cle Benny and many oth­ers like him fol­lowed.

An army needs food and medicine and am­mu­ni­tion and fuel, and when it is on the move it needs more of each.

Sup­ply lines of truck af­ter truck af­ter truck were vi­tal to the suc­cess of the Amer­i­can ef­fort.

I did not know my Un­cle Benny well, but I do know he was like any other young Amer­i­can in Eu­rope at the time.

He would rather have been home in Arkansas, start­ing his life as a young adult, in­stead of driv­ing to­wards bat­tle­fields in World War II.

But he was a sol­dier, and he was a part of a gen­er­a­tion that stepped up and did what they had to do.

Am­brose said that the young men of that day knew that they weren’t go­ing home un­til Hitler was de­feated, so their at­ti­tude was sim­ply, “let’s get on with it.”

Not ev­ery­thing went ac­cord­ing to plan on June 6, 1944. Nor did ev­ery­thing go as it should as the Al­lies be­gan driv­ing Ger­mans back to­wards their own coun­try.

But in the fi­nal anal­y­sis, his­to­ri­ans like Am­brose have con­cluded that the sons of democ­racy did what was nec­es­sary to de­feat the sons of tyranny, and to give the world an­other chance at free­dom.

“Even though they were afraid

for their lives, they charged forward and fought their way up­hill to be­gin neu­tral­iz­ing the en­emy.”

DAVID WIL­SON, EDD, OF SPRING­DALE, IS A FOR­MER HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL AND IS THE COM­MU­NI­CA­TIONS DI­REC­TOR FOR THE TRAN­SIT AND PARK­ING DE­PART­MENT AT THE UNI­VER­SITY OF ARKANSAS. HIS BOOK, LEARN­ING EV­ERY DAY, IS AVAIL­ABLE ON AMA­ZON. YOU MAY E-MAIL HIM AT DWNOTES@ HOT­MAIL.COM. THE OPINIONS EX­PRESSED ARE THOSE OF THE AU­THOR.

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