D-Day

Franciscan Paratrooper

Father Ignatius Maternowski

For love of Him they ought to expose themselves to enemies both visible and invisible.

Saint Francis of Assisi

Ignatius Maternowski entered this Vale of Tears on March 28, 1912, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the son of Polish immigrants  He attended, appropriately enough, Saint Francis High School.  Impressed by the Franciscans he encountered there, he decided to become a Franciscan priest.  He was ordained to the priesthood on July 3, 1938.  His gift for preaching manifesting itself, he was assigned as a missionary-preacher at the friary of Saint Anthony of Padua in Elicott City, Maryland.

From the time of Pearl Harbor he sought permission to serve as a chaplain and in July 1942 he enlisted in the Army.  He served as a chaplain in the 508th regiment of the 82nd Airborne.  In the aftermath of the chaotic combat drop into Normandy on the night before D-Day, Captain Maternowski busied himself in tending both American and German wounded. Continue reading

The Longest Day

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Something for the weekend.  The theme song from the movie The Longest Day performed by the West Point Cadet Glee Club.  From 1968-1995 the song was the regimental song of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

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My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. Continue reading

Reagan on D-Day

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Reagan gave the above speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day.  Today is the 70th anniversary of the longest day, and there are only a precious few of those men who stormed the beaches who still remain with us.  Time to remember them on this day and every day:

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty.  For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow.  Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation.  Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue.  here in Normandy the rescue began.  Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers on the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up.  When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting only ninety could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. Continue reading

D-Day: A French Priest is Grateful

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Today, seventy years on, this is heart warming:

 

As a Frenchman and as a priest, I’m really aware of what we owe this young generation of soldiers who died for us French to be free,” said Father Pujos, 44, who is a parochial vicar and chaplain at St. Catherine School.

Without his freedom, he may not have become a priest, he said.

“I’m a priest today … because I was raised in a free country, not occupied by the Nazis, nor by the Russian communists after World War II like half of Europe,” Father Pujos said.

As a young boy growing up in Paris, his family instilled in him a deep respect and appreciation for the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers who died that day.

During the Normandy invasion, called D-Day, some 156,000 allied troops launched the largest seaborne invasion in history against the German-occupied northern France and into Western Europe.

Causalities reached an estimated 12,000 that day along the 50-mile stretch of the Normandy beach. The victory contributed to the allied forces’ eventual victory over Nazi Germany.

His grandparents and parents, Jerome and Sylvie Pujos, always spoke to him about it. When he was young, his grandmother took him to the American cemetery in Normandy to pay their respect for the soldiers.

“I have a deep memory of the cemetery with all these thousands of tombs,” he said. “Each time I think about this cemetery, I get emotional because it’s striking.”

He recalls seeing row after row of white crosses marking the graves of young Americans.

“The field of crosses were perfectly taken care of and maintained,” he said. “As you got closer to the tombs, you would see the age of the soldiers. They were kids—18 or 21 years old.

“I will never forget about it,” Father Pujos said. Continue reading

The Great Crusade

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Eisenhower, on D-Day morning distributed to the troops a general order, which is like a handbill, and everybody read it.  And he said “we are about to embark upon the great crusade, which we have been preparing for, for many months” etc.

Now at first none of us could believe it was anything like a crusade, because we were playing dice, and we were thinking about girls all the time and getting drunk as possible and so forth.  It wasn’t like a crusade, there was not religious dimension to whatever.  When they finally got across France and into Germany, and saw the German death camps, they realized that they had been in engaged in something like a crusade, although none of them called it that.  And it all began to make a kind of sense to us.

Paul Fussell

 

 

 

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

Father Airborne

 

Father Francis Sampson

A leap year baby, Francis L. Sampson  was born on February 29, 1912 in Cherokee Iowa.

A quarter of a century later he graduated from Notre Dame and made a bee-line for St. Paul’s Seminary at Saint Paul Minnesota.  Ordained a priest for the Des Moines Iowa diocese on June 1, 1941, he served briefly as a parish priest at Neola, Iowa and taught at Dowling High School in Des Moines.

Eager to become a chaplain, as soon as he received permission from his Bishop Father Sampson enlisted in the United States Army in 1942.  Always looking for a challenge, he became regimental chaplain of the 501st Parachute Regiment of the 101rst Airborne.  In his memoirs, Look Out Below!, Father Sampson wrote about his joining a very tough branch of the service: Continue reading

D-Day on Film

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There have been surprisingly few movies on D-Day, as indicated by the fact that three out of the five videos looked at below are from television miniseries.  Here are the five best from  a scarce lot:

5. Ike: The War Years (1978)

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Robert Duvall as Eisenhower gives his usual riveting performance.  The late Lee Remick  gives a good performance as Captain Kay Summersby, the British driver/secretary assigned to Eisenhower.  Unfortunately the miniseries centers around the relationship of Eisenhower and Summersby, a relationship which is subject to historical dispute.

4.  Ike: Countdown to D-Day (1995)

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Tom Selleck gives a very good portrayal of Eisenhower in the days leading up to D-Day.  The video does a first rate job of portraying the problems that Eisenhower confronted:  getting prima donnas like Montgomery and Patton to work as a part of a team, concerns about the weather, the deception campaign to convince the Nazis that Calais would be the invasion site, etc.  The video also shines a light on the weight of responsibility which Eisenhower bore, especially when we see him write out a note just before the invasion taking full responsibility on his shoulders if it failed.

3.  Band of Brothers (2001)

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The epic miniseries covering the exploits of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne, captures well the chaos of the parachute and glider operations behind German lines that were so critical a part of the Allied victory on D-Day. Continue reading

Pope Benedict on D-Day

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On the 6th of June, 1944, when the landing of the allied troops in German-occupied France commenced, a signal of hope was given to people throughout the world, and also to many in Germany itself, of imminent peace and freedom in Europe.  What had happened?  A criminal and his party faithful had succeeded in usurping the power of the German state. In consequence of such party rule, law and injustice became intertwined, and often indistinguishable. The legal system itself, which continued, in some respects, still to function in an everyday context, had, at the same time, become a force destructive of law and right. This rule of lies served a system of fear, in which no one could trust another, since each person had somehow to shield himself behind a mask of lies, which, on the one hand, functioned as self defense, while, in equal measure, it served to consolidate the power of evil.  And so it was that the whole world had to intervene to force open this ring of crime, so that freedom, law and justice might be restored.

We give thanks at this hour that this deliverance, in fact, took place. And not just those nations that suffered occupation by German troops, and were thus delivered over to Nazi terror, give thanks. We Germans, too, give thanks that by this action, freedom, law and justice would be restored to us.  If nowhere else in history, here clearly is a case where, in the form of the Allied invasion, a justum bellum worked, ultimately, for the benefit of the very country against which it was waged.

Continue reading

70 Years Ago This Week

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The video above was produced 7 years ago.  If D-Day were to occur today under the current administration I suspect that the coverage of most of the media would be in the nature of  “OBAMA STORMS ASHORE IN NORMANDY!” or “THE NAZIS ARE AFRAID OF OBAMA!”.  When the press isn’t in the tank however, their coverage of military matters normally is in accord with this sarcastic comment of General Robert E. Lee:

“We made a great mistake in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal mistake. We appointed all our worst generals to command our armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.”

Continue reading

First US Army Group

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“There is one great thing that you men will all be able to say after this war is over and you are home once again. You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you WON’T have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, “Well, your Granddaddy shoveled sh-t in Louisiana.” No, Sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say, “Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a-G-dd—ed-B—h named Georgie Patton!”

General George S. Patton, Jr., June 5, 1944

 

General George S. Patton, Jr., not only had high military skills, he was also a skilled actor, using that skill to inspire his troops and sometimes to terrify his immediate subordinates.  After Patton was placed in the dog house due to the slapping of a private on Sicily, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall came up with the idea of using Patton as a decoy:  Marshall wrote to Eisenhower on October 21, 1943: “It seems evident to us that Patton’s movements are of great importance to German reactions and therefore should be carefully considered. I had thought and spoke to [Eisenhower's chief of staff, Walter Bedell] Smith about Patton being given a trip to Cairo and Cyprus but the Corsican visit appeals to me as carrying much more of a threat [to northern Italy].” Eisenhower responded, “As it is I am quite sure that we must do everything possible to keep [the Germans] confused and the point you have suggested concerning Patton’s movements appeals to me as having a great deal of merit. This possibility had not previously occurred to me.”

Ironically, although the Germans after his dash across France at the head of Third Army would regard Patton as one of ablest Allied generals, prior to that time his name figures little in German intelligence reports, while constant attention was paid to the movements of Montgomery.  The plan to use Patton as a decoy was therefore based on a faulty premise, but of course Eisenhower and Marshall were completely unaware of that. Continue reading

D-Day, History and Memory

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Sixty-Nine years since D-Day.  In the first law firm I worked for in 1982 the Senior Partner had lost a son on Omaha Beach.  The man I was replacing had just been made a Judge, and still walked with a limp from being shot up on Omaha Beach.  Another partner had been with the Eighth Air Force in England, helping to plot flight missions in support of D-Day.  This was in a five man firm, including myself.  D-Day left its mark on this nation, with its approximately 3,000 dead and 6000 wounded Americans, but with the passage of time it has become relegated to the history books as those who lived the longest day depart from the scene. Continue reading

Father Ranger

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Monsignor Joseph R. Lacy

The men of the 5th Ranger Battalion could barely keep from laughing when they first saw their chaplain, Lieutenant Joe Lacy, a week before D-Day.  These were young men, in peak physical condition.  Father Joe Lacy was old by Ranger standards, knocking on 40, overweight by at least 30 pounds, wearing thick glasses and short, 5 foot, six inches.  He was described by one Ranger as “a small, fat old Irishman.”  No way would he be able to keep up when they  invaded France.

On the trip across the Channel to France,  Chaplain Lacy told the men:  “When you land on the beach and you get in there, I don’t want to see anybody kneeling down and praying. If I do I’m gonna come up and boot you in the tail. You leave the praying to me and you do the fighting.”  A few of the men began to think that maybe this priest was tougher than he looked. Continue reading

Reagan’s Normandy Speech

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The first law firm I worked for in 1982 after I graduated from law school had three attorneys.  The senior partner had a son who fell at Omaha Beach.  Another partner was an officer in the Eighth Air Force helping to plot bombing missions in support of D-Day.  The attorney I replaced, who had been appointed to be a judge, had been badly wounded at Omaha Beach and still walked with a very pronounced limp as a result.  On Memorial Day  weekend I will remember those men, and all those who have sacrificed on behalf of our nation.  Here is the text of President Reagan’s speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day: Continue reading

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