Rushville Republican

June 14, 2013

Ward: They really were the Greatest Generation

Bill Ward
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — December 7, 1941 may be the day that will live in infamy, but June 6 ,1944 surely will be the day that began the ending of the Nazi scourge in Europe. Thousands of American, British and Canadian men stormed the vaunted Festung Europa of Hitler. They knew they faced a daunting job to even get to the landing and dry land, but they did not hesitate. Those young men and those who commanded them knew and very reluctantly accepted that there would be huge causality lists. But they did not hesitate they did what had to be done.

There was no certainty that the invasion would actually gain a foothold in Normandy. There was no certain way that the Allies could actually get a foothold on the European Continent. There were those who knew that their assignment would mean certain death; they were called Rangers. They landed on a beach below a huge and high cliff. On top of those cliffs stood a large number of German soldiers and it was thought huge guns that would command the beach and be able to kill hundreds. Those Rangers did their job and at a huge cost. Those men who made it to the beach only to be felled by German bullets died before they even realized that they had made it to dry land. They fought, they died, they were wounded, yet continued to fight and they advanced. Men on both sides died, were wounded, were maimed for life, but all fought and fought bravely and long and continued to get that important foothold on the coast of Normandy.

Those men from Eisenhower on down to the lowliest Private knew many would die. They knew what was coming yet they persevered and continued to do their duty to God and country. I was young, but also was caught up with the emotions of the time. We went to church, we prayed, we worried, we listened to the radio and again we prayed. Much had been done to attempt to throw the Nazi intelligence off as to where the landings would be and evidently it worked to an extent. Hitler helped because he was convinced the true landing would be further up the coast. Huge phantom armies had been conceived and they fooled the enemy. French soldiers and sailors finally managed to come home and help free their land from tyranny.

The bravery of those many men who landed that day on those beaches is beyond comprehension of us today. These men were truly the Greatest Generation. They showed us how to be brave, how to fight and how to die. Many would never be the same after this horrendous event, but they fought on. A year later Germany fell and Hitler committed suicide rather than face the fury of his conquerors. Our men and the Allies men fought on for over a year, but in the end those hallowed fields in Normandy where so many now rest were free and so was the entire country of France. The yoke of tyranny was lifted from many French, Belgium, Norwegians, Swedes and others and our allies plowed on toward Germany.

The world owes those men a true vote of thanks, not only for their bravery but their dedication to one thing, victory. World War II was a true worldwide war, one spread all over the globe and one between three different types of government and societies. In the English and American mind Europe came first, but the Asian theater of operations, although second on the list of importance, took its toll of lives and individuals as well. Both countries were fighting in places almost everywhere in the world. But the Allies had one huge advantage, the American people and their industrial might. Our country was one of very few in the world whose country had not been ravaged one way or the other. We were indeed the arsenal of the world during this period. We had the manufacturing power, the man power and the desire to fight and fight hard for freedom for us and our allies.

And after the war we were Christian enough to not punish beyond reality our defeated enemies, but to help them recover. We helped both friends and foes after the war and now Germany and Japan are our partners in world affairs. Many of those brave men are now gone and many others are getting up in age. Let us never forget what they did or how they did it. Let us forever honor them for their bravery and lives even after we find ourselves with none alive. And most important of all, let us never forget the horror and huge cost in lives and treasure of war.