The First Combat Test For Many Americans Was On D-Day
As we are five days from the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, it is important to reflect and consider the emotions of more than 160,000 Allied troops who were tasked with storming the beaches of Normandy, France. They were supported by the largest armada ever assembled, including nearly 5,000 ships and 12,000 allied aircraft. Standing in their way was Germany’s imposing Atlantic Wall, a 50-mile stretch of heavily defended French coastline. Success on D-Day meant that the Allies had secured a vital launching point into Europe to bring Hitler’s Nazi War Machine to its end.
It took the Allies years of arduous preparation to ensure the greatest chances of success on D-Day. Winston Churchill said that the operation was, “Undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred.” Historian Stephen E. Ambrose wrote that it was the, “Most thoroughly planned amphibious operation in history.” Most people would assume that only crack troops with fighting experience would spearhead an operation of this magnitude. To think that would be logical, but that isn’t the way that things played out. According to Alex Kershaw in his book, The Bedford Boys, “Only one of the eleven American divisions in Britain before D-Day-the 1st Division-had seen combat.”
Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division leaving a port at Weymouth, England, for the Invasion of Normandy. (Photo: Robert Capa)
It may be hard to imagine, but the first fight of World War II for many Americans was on D-Day. Men like the “Bedford Boys” from Company A of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division were sent to England in 1942 and trained until 1944 for this mission. The “Bedford Boys” were part of the first wave of Americans to land on the beaches of Normandy at Omaha Beach. 19 of the men from this small town in Bedford, Virginia were killed on Omaha. Alex Kershaw dedicated his book to the incredible sacrifices of these men, writing, “No community in the state or in America or indeed in any Allied nation had lost as many sons as Bedford.” Their first test of the war happened to come during arguably the most important operation in military history. This is one of the many stories that so clearly defines D-Day. A date remembered by sacrifices made by men from small towns around the world.
"The Bedford Boys" Company A of the 29th Infantry Division. (Photo: ww2gravestone.com)
Before the invasion, Allied generals predicted a 25 percent casualty rate for infantrymen on the beaches. In the end, total casualties for the entire Allied invasion forces approached nearly 10,000 men. That signaled a loss of about 10 percent of the first 100,000 men who were landed.
We can never show enough admiration for the men who fought for every square of sand on the beaches of Normandy. Their victory was a triumph for mankind and brought back hope not only to Europe, but to that of the free world.
On Tuesday June 6, 2017, I will be publishing a special article about the "Bedford Boys" and their legacy on the way that we look at D-Day. Until then, I hope that this piece serves as a sufficient preview of what's to come.