By Elaine Owen, Editor
Imagine. One day that changed every day since. There aren’t many such days in human history–but June 6, 1944 was one of them.
That day, the beginning of the end of the worst and costliest conflicts of all time began. It was called Operation Overlord. D-Day. And the United States played a pivotal role.
Amassed in the largest seaborne invasion of all time, American, Canadian and British troops landed on five beaches in Normandy, France, breaching the Nazi’s vaunted Atlantic Wall and paving the way for the end of the Second World War 10 months later.
Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It is likely to be the last major commemoration attended by the brave men who stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The youngest of them then are in their mid-90s now. These veterans will soon pass into history, joining comrades who were not able to grow old.
Their heroism lives on, as long as Americans pause to honor it.
World War II fades in our national memory as the men who fought it die at a rate of 348 every day. Only a handful of the 73,000 Americans who participated in Operation Overlord are expected to attend commemorations in France this week. When they are gone, who will tell the story of how these brave men saved the world? If that sounds overly dramatic, let’s agree that the outcome of the war was riding on their shoulders.
The Allied invasion of Europe was the largest land, sea and air operation ever conducted, before or since. Two million troops waited in England, ready to pour into France once an expeditionary force of 150,000 established a beachhead.
A June 8, 1944, editorial in the Syracuse Herald-Journal tried to convey the enormity of the landing, code-named Neptune: Imagine a formation of planes, flying nine abreast, that extended nearly 230 miles from end to end and required almost an hour to pass over the target area. Picture huge glider trains, towed by hundreds of airplanes. Picture thousands of troops floating to the ground under parachutes.
Imagine transport by air of hundreds of tons of military equipment. And all this in spite of bad weather. Remember tales about the beaches? The Americans took Omaha and Utah. The British and Canadians landed at Juno, Gold and Sword. The troops came under withering fire from Nazi defensive positions dug into the cliffs above them. Many soldiers drowned or were killed before they even hit the beach…and the sea ran red with their blood. And yet wave after wave of landing craft, crammed with soldiers, kept coming.
The human cost of the invasion’s first day was enormous: 10,000 killed, wounded or missing in action. More than 6,000 were Americans. Six soldiers from Fannin County were killed in action on D-Day. They were: Private James W. Chancey, 2nd Armored Division, Killed In Action June 6, 1944; Tech Sergeant John W. Mashburn, 29th Infantry Division, Killed In Action June 7, 1944; Private First Class Scott S. Lackey, 4th Infantry Division, Killed In Action July 12, 1944; Private Olan D. Polk, 29th Infantry Division, Killed In Action July 13, 1944; Private Robert H. Styles, 5th Infantry Division, Killed In Action July 31, 1944; Private John W. Woody, 29th Infantry Division, Killed In Action August 28, 1944.
Headlines captured the apprehension hanging over the home front: Everybody realized that the invasion had to come sooner or later before this heart-breaking war could be brought to an end and the foundation laid for a lasting peace. But the ending of the long months of suspense served only to usher in a new period of more acute anxiety.
For the mothers and fathers who had sons in the combat zone and for the wives who await word of their husbands’ safety, these were indeed days that tried the soul.
Once they had gained the beach, scaled the cliffs and defeated Hitler’s defenses, Allied troops faced one grueling fight after another on their march to liberate Paris and topple Berlin. The Battle of the Bulge lay ahead.
Victory in Europe finally was achieved on May 8, 1945 – 11 difficult months after D-Day. War in the Pacific raged on—and victory over Japan would not come until August 1945.
After the war, the foundation for a lasting peace in Europe was laid. America’s leadership and aid helped rebuild the shattered continent, spread democracy where dictators once ruled, and made allies of our enemies in a trans-Atlantic alliance that endures to this day. After two world wars in the space of 30 years in the 20th century, we have not had another well into the 21st.
That is the inheritance left to us by the soldiers of D-Day and all their comrades in arms. We will never forget their service and their sacrifice.
Some 320,000 Georgians served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II; 6,780 of those did not return home. The WWII monument in Veterans Park in Blue Ridge shows 55 names of service members from Fannin County.
Today, in Fannin County, we honor Mr. Dale Dyer and Mr. Robert Brown who are still with us to tell their stories.