June 6, 1944. D-Day.
Thousands of troops hit the beaches of Normandy on this day 70 years ago. I have been watching special after special on KET and AHC. World War II has always fascinated me.
As a Marine Officer in the 1990s, we spent much time studying the Pacific Island-hopping campaign that added to the legend that is the US Marine Corps. But we also studied the many, many mistakes of the D-Day invasion in France. It was a disaster of an amphibious landing, by any standard. Army troops were not trained for amphibious assaults, and many of them drowned before ever reaching the shoreline. The surf was atrocious. The Navy bombardment failed to take out the concrete bunkers on the cliffs overlooking Normandy. The tanks never made it ashore, as the flotation devices failed. The decoys (fake tanks, trucks and troops) placed at Pas de Calais had only faked the Germans out initially. By the time of the invasion on Omaha Beach, General Rommel had amassed fortifications to deter any assault on that 1,000 yard stretch of sand. It was a death trap if ever there was one.
So, what enabled the Americans to succeed? Anyone who has studied that battle and invasion is forced to admit we should have been absolutely cut to shreds. To be sure, the troops on Omaha nearly were totally destroyed by German machine guns. But, somehow, they pushed forward, climbing over dead bodies and inch-worming their way towards the cliffs which were raining death down on them.
One of the documentaries I watched showed those now infamous “floating tanks” sinking into the surf, while troops scrambled to climb out of them and jump off to keep from drowning inside the tank. Many did not make it out of the death traps. Yet, even after the first tanks sunk, other tanks kept driving off into that choppy ocean, only to sink like those before. Why? Because they had been given orders and they knew their tank was desperately needed in the fight raging on the beach. They had to try, even if it was almost certainly going to kill them.
Courage. It’s a hard thing to define, but fairly easy to spot. Someone has said courage is “going forward even when you’re scared.”
That’s a pretty good definition, I think. Everyone at the D-Day invasion was scared. They went anyway, bolstered by courage and the amazing grace of our God who was so clearly on the beaches of Normandy with us and our Allies that day.
Courage won the day. The WWII generation is quite possibly the greatest in American history, with the exception of the Revolutionaries of 1775. Such sacrificial bravery and ingenuity and dogged guts to win are worth us stopping for a moment or two today and remembering with gratitude.
Courage can change the face of the world.
“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. Be strong and of good courage” (Joshua 1:5-6).
God, please renew courage in Your church and in this Nation, to go forward for Your glory even in the face of impossible odds. For Your sake and glory alone, in Christ the Greatest Man of Courage the world has ever known. Amen.