Posted on June 13th, 2017 by:

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By David A Gordon

Stars and Stripes Staff Writer

One year ago today, thousands of American soldiers crouched in swaying invasion boats, vomited and prayed in choppy seas, and then waded ashore on French soil, rifles in their hands, together with British and Canadian buddies in the invasion of the continent.

They stumbled on to the beaches, with men dropping under heavy fire from German troops who had four years to entrench themselves along the coast, but they kept going and didn’t stop until Germany surrendered on May 8.

So today is a holiday for Allied troops—if it doesn’t halt essential Army duties—and at Omaha Beach the Fifth and Sixth Engineer Special Brigades will hold a joint ceremony. They will dedicate to their dead what is believed to be the first pillbox captured by the Allies in Western Europe.

First Came Air War

Before that greatest combined land-sea-and-air operation of all time, with airborne infantry and paratroops dropping from the skies, with a vast air armada and a huge naval fleet supporting the attack, there had been the air war from Britain, and the bitter fighting in Italy, and the Russian capture of Sebastopol.

These were the headlines in The London Stars and Stripes in the week before that day:

“Atlantic Wall Gets Its Daily Bomb Ration.”

“Glider Pilots Getting Training for Ground Jobs After Landing.”

“Halsey-Nimitz U.S. Talks With King Disclosed.”

“Yanks, French Push Toward Hitler Line; 8th Near Vital Road.”

“London MPs Pick Up 42 In Check-Up.”

So strong had been the emphasis on the air attacks from Britain that the June 4 British edition of YANK featured airmen on its cover, and the lead story was “Fighter Pilots of the Ninth Air Force.” There was another story, too, from Italy, “Why Old Soldiers Never Die.”

GIs Remember Blood, Snipers

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Paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division prepare for the drop into Normandy.

The story of the vast strategic plan mapped out by Supreme Commander Eisenhower and his staff and the detailed tactical operations will be described at some future date in many a military history, but to the soldiers who carved out the beachhead that day, and to those who poured over the beaches after them, the landing will bring back sharp memories of fear, of blood, of sniper bullets, Calvados, of shattered French towns and of a coast filled with the wreckage of an invading army. And of the men buried in the cemeteries near the sea.

The first waves of men came in by air, carried by more than 1,000 C47 transports and gliders, and many died as they came down in the night, but others carried out their missions. Prior to landing, a huge Allied air fleet had plastered the German defenses. The area of operations covered a stretch of the Seine Bay, with simultaneous landings planned for two main beaches, later to be immortalized for millions of GIs as Omaha and Utah Beaches.

V Corps came in near St. Laurent-sur-Mer. VII Corps landed near Varreville, with the 82nd and 101st Airborne men coming inland around Ste. Mere-Eglise. North of Caen near LeHavre, the British and Canadians landed.

The Germans had tank-traps, hidden machine-gun nests with cross-fire that could cover every part of the beaches, and great concrete gun emplacements built onto the top of the hills. There were buried mines everywhere, including mines placed under water so that they would catch the incoming invasion boats.

All Did Their Jobs—and Well

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Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division head towards Omaha Beach

Men of the 29th, the First and 4th Divs. made their planned penetration, together with Rangers. Near Bayeux, two British divisions and one Canadian division went ashore. There were engineers, sailors, tankers and nurses and doctors, too, and they all did a job.

The Navy and the Air Force bombarded the coast, both before and after the landing, and smashed strong-points, permitting the infantry to consolidate the move further inland. But for the ground troops, the task was to keep moving and not to be pinned down on the beaches. This they did at a heavy cost, although the figure was not as high as had been expected.

They-all of them, Army, Navy and Air Forces—did their jobs so well that on June 13 Eisenhower was able to say to them:

“Your accomplishments in the first seven days of this campaign have exceeded my brightest hopes.” He added: “I truly congratulate you upon a brilliantly successful beginning to this great undertaking. Liberty-loving peoples everywhere would today like to join me in saying to you, ‘I am proud of you.’”

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Medics treat one of the 197 casualties on Utah Beach

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