Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Remembering “D” Day

Posted to OGR on 06/06/2010

Sunday June 6, 2010 is the 66th anniversary of D Day, the day that the US, British, Canadian and Free French forces landed on the beaches of Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. The assault was conducted in two phases: an air assault landing of 24,000 American, British, Canadian and Free French airborne troops shortly after midnight, and an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armored divisions on the coast of France beginning at 6:30 AM. The operation was the largest amphibious invasion of all time, with over 160,000 troops landing on 6 June 1944. 195,700 Allied naval and merchant navy personnel in over 5,000 ships were involved.

As I mentioned the past couple of weeks in this column, on June 6, 1964 I stood on a windy bluff in the middle of a bright sunshine filled day, looking at the waves of the English Channel as they lapped at the sand of Omaha beach. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was a young midshipman on my third class summer cruise. The Navy had rented a bus so we could travel the 40 to 50 miles southeast from Cherbourg France where our ship the USS Little Rock was anchored. There were no special ceremonies, just a quiet group of young sailors visiting a special place on a special day. But the visit had a profound effect on me. In my mind’s eye, I could see the landing craft crash through the waves and shudder onto the beach, dropping their ramps and streaming soldiers onto the beach to brave the withering fire coming from the very bluffs on which I stood. I could smell the cordite and gunpowder, and see the destruction wreaked by the aerial bombardment that preceded the invasion. That day was not a clear one like my day was. The weather had been poor for the previous two days and the bombardment had not softened up beach defenses on Omaha and Juno. Utah beach was to my left as I faced the shore and Gold, Juno and Sword were to my right. Farther to my right and behind me was Paris, Cherbourg stuck out into the English Channel on the Cotentin Peninsula to my left. As I stood there, I couldn’t help but remember the soldiers that preserved our freedom by hurling themselves upon that beach, and to say in my own small way, “thank you – I will always remember what you did here.”

That was a pivotal year in my young life. The previous semester, I started working at WUSC on the campus of the University of South Carolina. Aboard ship, I was listening to the sounds of rock and roll coming from Radio Caroline, the original “Pirate Radio” station that covered England and western France with the music of my youth. It was my first time outside the United States and the first foreign soil that I walked on. So much was changing, I would remain in the Naval Reserves for 7 more years and I would be beginning my broadcasting career. Things would never be the same again. Life was unfolding!

Copyright 2010 Rick Wrigley

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