Next Friday, June 6, America will pause to reflect on an event that took place 70 years ago, in France, on the beaches of Normandy.
To use the word "event" is to understate what had actually taken place. Some historians describe the Allied landings as the largest invasion ever by a military force.
When morning came on June 6, the German Army coastal watchers could not believe what they were witnessing. They and their formidable defensive force, created by Field Marshal Rommel, saw 5,000 Allied ships. The transport ships were about to disembark tens of thousands of British, American and Canadian troops.
The planning for the invasion had begun two years earlier and had as its objective to drive the Nazi forces back to Berlin and eventually bring the European Theater of World War II to an end, with the unconditional surrender of the Third Reich.
The end of the war did not come as quickly as planned. The German resistance was more than what had been expected. Six months later, in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge, the number of U.S. and allied casualties far exceeded what had occurred at Normandy. But the end did come, in early May 1945, 11 months after the great invasion.
In the two classic movies that depict the events of June 6, 1944, "The Longest Day" and "Saving Private Ryan," writers Cornelius Ryan and Robert Rodat provided us with "an eyewitness account" of the enormity and devastation which accompanied the landings.
The late W.C. (Bill) Heinz, of Dorset, Vermont, was a war correspondent on June 6, 1944, for the New York Sun. He witnessed the landings at Normandy from the deck of the battleship, U.S.S. Nevada. He would later note: "No artist will ever have a canvas to paint, nor a scene for a photographer to shoot or a correspondent to write, than that which I and others had witness on the morning of June the 6th."
There will be a great deal written over the next week or so commemorating the D-Day invasion. What might not be written and not too well known were the other military events had taken place at about the same time. They too were enormous in scope and the fact that they were ongoing speaks volumes to the character, competence and dedication of the leaders in government, the military, home front and industry during World War II.
In Italy, on June 4, 1944, U.S. General Mark Clark and his 5th Army, were driving towards Rome to bring the Nazi occupation of Italy to an end. Halfway around the world, in the Pacific, in the Marianas, on June 15, thousands of U.S. Marines, protected by a naval armada of 90 ships, invaded the Japanese-held island of Saipan.
There was more, a great deal more. On June 19, Task Force 58, comprised of hundreds of ships, was engaged in the Battle of the Philippines. Also, during the same time period, but not a U.S. led operation, was the opening of the Second Front in Southeast Asia. It was in Burma that the United Kingdom’s Admiral Lord Mountbatten had begun the effort to push the Imperial Japanese Army out of that part of the world.
It is difficult to grasp how so much was happening at almost the same time. One must wonder in amazement the quality of leadership that had been in place, at all levels, that planned and executed such huge undertakings?
The dedication, commitment, courage and sacrifice shown on the beaches of Normandy can never be talked or written about enough. But let’s not lose sight or understate the leadership that had existed to plan and execute such an event. It was a style of leadership that is sorely missing today -- in politics, government and business.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.