Young American Men Tested On D-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.