The date was 6 June 1944. On that somber day, three-quarters of a century ago, with foul weather over the English Channel and 60 miles of beaches on France’s Normandy coast, Allied Forces invaded France. That day would forever be recorded in the annals of history as D-Day.
On 5 June 1944, in Southwick, England, supreme commander of the WWII Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, sat with his commanders in his headquarters, with the question on the table being whether or not to postpone or initiate the Allied invasion of Western Europe. A successful foothold on French beaches would not end the war but would turn the tide of the European theater, and eventually force the surrender of Hitler and his European minions.
Allied success was paramount though costly, especially in human lives. Four commanders were asked to advise. Two favored and two opposed launching D-Day, leaving the ultimate decision in the hands of General Eisenhower. After almost five minutes of silence, according to Michael Korda’s “Ike at D-Day” in the December 2007 issue of Smithsonian magazine, Eisenhower is reported to have said, “I am positive we must give the order. … I don’t like it, but there it is. … I don’t see how we can do anything else.” Poised to go, or already on the treacherous seas, were 176,475 soldiers, 20,111 vehicles, 1,500 tanks, mobile docks, and 12,000 ready-to-fly planes. There were five D-Day beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Omaha proved to be the bloodiest, where roughly 2,400 U.S. troops died, were wounded, or went missing.
Four Latter-day Saint Servicemen Recount Their Experiences on D-Day
Robert C. Freeman and Dennis A. Wright have compiled D-Day experiences of Latter-day servicemen in a book titled Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-day Saints in World War II. One of the accounts is about Serviceman Alfred W. Beeler. He remembered, “climb(ing) overboard on a rope net (to leap into a) landing craft far below. It was a real trick. … As the craft rose on the crest of a wave we had (a split second) to step into the craft. … If men missed … and fell into the water, they were lost at sea.”
Melvin D. Barney recalled armor-piercing shells hitting his landing craft, leaving the man next to him headless. The shell continued and “hit (another) in the chest (and) … tore him completely in two.”
Wendell Jones had to carry an 85-pound radio onto the beach. Hit with shrapnel, he continued on, and “next morning I returned to the beach with Colonel Canham. (It) was covered with bodies of dead and wounded soldiers, some whose legs had been blown off but were still alive. Everywhere I looked, I saw bodies of American soldiers, … hundreds … so many it was almost impossible to take a step without having to step over someone.” There were so many left dead that the corpses were hauled off in racks on 2-ton trucks for the next three days.
Don S. Brimhall remembered being “sitting ducks for the large German coastal guns, and their fighter-bombers. … Landing craft and ships were on fire and sinking, aircraft were being shot out of the sky, dead bodies were floating on the high tides, and … oil from sinking craft was burning on the water creating dense, black smoke. … Wave after wave of American troops lost their lives on the initial landing on Omaha Beach. … Thousands of young men sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom.”
In the heated onslaught of the battle, all gave some, but some gave all, willingly placing their lives on the line, with the determination that evil and tyranny would not rule the day, but freedom would forever reign triumphant. A valuable life lesson learned from that page of history is that freedom is not free. It carries a hefty price tag, and that price is often paid with the spilled blood of comrades-in-arms. For that reason, we too must defend the God-given liberties that we so enjoy and often take for granted.
*The video below is a compilation of Latter-day Saints who have served in the military.