Athens Review, Athens, Texas


June 6, 2014

Can you tell me what happened on June 6, 1944?

Athens — I’ve heard  some people say they don’t like history, because it’s nothing but memorizing a lot of dates.

It seems to me, they’re missing the point. History isn’t just the dates. It’s a collection of stories about people and the triumphs, trials and hardships of the days they lived. The protagonists in the stories walked on the moon, blazed trails in through the wilderness, and in some cases committed heinous acts against their fellow man.

Adolph Hitler is the name that first comes to mind when we think of atrocities. The forces of the 3rd Reich, under him exterminated millions of people. Had his plans not been cut short, the number of dead would have far exceeded the 5 million or more estimated by Paul Hilberg in the “Destruction of the European Jews.”

By June 6, 1944, after years of fighting the Nazis on other fronts, the time had come to liberate Europe, and put a stop to Der Feuhrer and his evils. The German fighting machine was still an immense force. Heavily-armed and well-trained, they would dig in against the allied assault.

Operation Overlord, as the invasion was called, required an amassed armada of 5,000 vessels. More than 160,000 allied troops made it to shore on the first day. By the end of August, more than 3 million allied troops were in France, and days of the German hold on Europe were numbered.

We shouldn’t forget, when reciting those staggering numbers, all of the individual soldiers and sailors who put their lives on the line. They knew the capabilities of their enemy.

No one doubted as the boats left the English shoreline, that the cost of pushing the Nazi’s off the beaches of Normandy would be counted in human lives. The rows of crosses, still there today, are a timeless testament to the price that was paid.

The ultimate victory in Europe wasn’t won until the final spring. But without the push the allies got on that watershed day in June, it might have taken much longer to accomplish.

Berlin fell on April 16, 1945. Hitler was dead and the full benefit of that  fact to mankind cannot be understated. D-Day was the beginning of the end  for Hitler and his cronies, for their stranglehold on Europe and their extermination of about two-thirds of the Jewish population of the continent.

Four of my uncles fought in Europe.  Their names are chisled among the others in the Henderson County War Memorial that opened at the East Texas Arboretum last year. They all played a part in freeing Europe, and by extension, keeping us free.

The United States couldn’t fully celebrate the victory until the rest of the job was done. There was another enemy half a world away aligned with Hitler. About four more months of fierce fighting would take place before the imperial Empire of Japan fell, and we could declare peace at last.

When I was still in grade school, I remember picking up a magazine, and reading about the 20th anniversary of D-Day.  It was still fresh in the minds of many.  In 1994, we observed the 50th anniversary. The men who stormed the beaches were all past retirement age by then.

Today, the survivors are all in their late 80s and 90s. Eventually, they’ll be gone, and all that will remain of D-Day is what we learn from the history books.

Rich Flowers is news editor of the Athens Daily Review.


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