Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, June 6, 2014 12:16 am

How the most important day of the 20th century began

Filed under: Salute!,Say a prayer — Lex @ 12:16 am

From the prologue of Stephen Ambrose’s book “D-Day”:

At 0016 hours, June 6, 1944, the Horsa glider crash-landed alongside the Caen canal, some 50 meters from the swing bridge crossing the canal. Lt. Den Brotheridge, leading the twenty-eight men of the first platoon, D company, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment, British 6th Airborne Division, worked his way out of the glider. He grabbed Sgt. Jack “Bill” Bailey, a section leader, and whispered in his ear, “Get your chaps moving.” Bailey set off with his group to pitch grenades into the machine-gun pillbox known to be beside the bridge. Lieutenant Brotheridge gathered the remainder of his platoon, whispered, “Come on, lads,” and began running for the bridge. The German defenders, about fifty strong, were not aware that the long-awaited invasion had just begun.

As Brotheridge led his men at a fast trot up the embankment and onto the bridge, seventeen-year-old Pvt. Helmut Romer, one of the two German sentries on the bridge, saw the twenty-one British paratroopers — appearing, so far as he was concerned, literally out of nowhere — coming at him, their weapons carried at their hips, prepared to fire. Romer turned and ran across the bridge, shouting “Paratroopers!” at the other sentry as he passed him. That sentry pulled out his Leuchtpistole and fired a flare; Brotheridge fired a full clip of thirty-two rounds from his Sten gun.

Those were the first shots fired by the 175,000 British, American, Canadian, Free French, Polish, Norwegian, and other nationalities in the Allied Expeditionary Force set to invade Normandy in the next twenty-four hours. The shots killed the sentry, who thus became the first German to die in defense of Hitler’s Fortress Europe.

Seventy years ago today. I’ve read avidly about this day, and the war of which it was a part, since at least as far back as 1970. I can recite a lot of facts and anecdotes about D-Day, I can talk about Eisenhower’s strategy, the effort and luck involved in the Allies’ scheme to make the Germans think the landing would come at Calais, and so forth and so on. And yet there remains a part of me that just can’t even imagine …


  1. Ambrose is a wonderful writer. His vivid prose, does though, help the reader imagine the hell of war and the nearness of failure that June day in France 70 years ago

    Reagan was the Great Communicator

    Comment by Fred Gregory — Friday, June 6, 2014 5:14 pm @ 5:14 pm

  2. My uncle, James Elmo Jones, was one of the 20 plus survivors of the 200 or so Pathfinders that night jumped behind enemy lines the night before. He went back to jump again at many of the D-Day events in Normandy before his death a few years ago. His chute was hung in a tall pine tree and he was shot by German soldiers and left to die. He hung there for a couple of days before being found by US Troops. His last car, a Mercury Marquis with a police interceptor package, sits in my driveway. He always owned fast cars and airplanes.

    Comment by Billy Jones — Friday, June 6, 2014 9:11 pm @ 9:11 pm

    • Billy, I had read about him!

      Comment by Lex — Sunday, June 8, 2014 2:07 pm @ 2:07 pm

      • Lex, that’s good to hear as there has been so little written about the Pathfinders. In Elmo’s days night jumps were pure luck– nothing more. My Daddy had also trained to jump there as part of the main invasion force but as he has lied about his age and was still only 15 the night before he was supposed to leave ORD to go overseas his mother left the mountains for the first time in her life and fetched him home. Daddy said his only jump training had been from the towers at Bragg and that up until that point he had never been in a airplane. Daddy would go on to reenlist after he turned 18 and find himself on the first boat to land in Korea doing a Marine style landing on the beach– something else the Army never taught him how to do.

        You know what always got me was that they believed that was a better life than sharecropping. I guess that tells you how hard things really were back then.

        Comment by Billy Jones — Sunday, June 8, 2014 9:40 pm @ 9:40 pm

  3. I could swear I left FDR’s D-Day prayer here early this morning but just the same here it is

    ” My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
    And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

    Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

    Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

    They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

    They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

    For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

    Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

    And for us at home – fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas – whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them – help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

    Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

    Give us strength, too – strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

    And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

    And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

    With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

    Thy will be done, Almighty God.


    Comment by Fred Gregory — Saturday, June 7, 2014 2:03 am @ 2:03 am

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