WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“Later today, I will be leaving with many other Senators on an official trip to Normandy, France to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, also known as “Operation Overlord.” I consider it a high honor to be part of a Congressional delegation commemorating one of the most important days in the history of human civilization. It is especially important to make this trip at a time when relations with our traditional trans-Atlantic allies are under undue and unnecessary stress.
On June 6, 1944, the largest single amphibious assault in history crossed the English Channel and stormed the beaches of Normandy, code-named “Utah,” “Omaha,” “Gold,” “Juno,” and “Sword” – names that will be forever associated with acts of uncommon valor and self-sacrifice in defense of human freedom and dignity. The Allied armada involved over 156,000 U.S., British, and Canadian troops traveling aboard almost 7,000 naval ships and landing vessels.
Even before the amphibious assault, in the darkened skies of that early morning, 13,100 American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions made parachute drops near Carentan from over 2,000 Allied aircraft, followed by 3,937 troops flown in by day on 867 gliders as the opening maneuver of Operation Neptune (the assault operation for Overlord).
Three of the six Allied Divisions involved in D-Day were American, including the 29th Infantry Division. The 29th Infantry Division was activated on February 3, 1941 and based at Fort Meade, Maryland. It consisted of soldiers from Maryland and Virginia. In September 1942, the 29th deployed to England, where it made final preparations for the D-Day invasion.
Operation Overlord called for Allied troops to storm ashore five landing areas along the 50-mile stretch of Normandy’s shore. U.S. forces were responsible for taking Utah and Omaha; securing Omaha was critical to the Allies’ success, and would be the site of the heaviest German resistance. The 29th and the 1st Infantry Division were responsible for taking Omaha. Nearly 10,000 men of the 29th formed the first assault wave on Omaha. At approximately 6:30 in the morning on June 6th, Allied forces encountered stormy seas, a low tide, reinforced obstacles, and a force of 50,000 German troops awaiting them on Normandy’s 50-mile shoreline.
George “Billy” Forbes Jr. of Bryantown, Maryland was a radio operator in the 29th Infantry Division. Mr. Forbes described his feelings before the D-Day invasion as “very anxious and very scared.” He said that even though he did not know what to expect, he had a job to do, and he was going to do it to the best of his ability.
Lester Lease of Cumberland, Maryland was only 16 years old when he lied about his age to join the Army. He was a sergeant in the 29th when he landed at Omaha Beach. Mr. Lease stressed the difficulty of the amphibious assault. The “Higgins boats” could not get close enough to shore for the soldiers to get off on the land, so they had to swim through deep water before they could wade or crawl ashore. Many of them perished in the onslaught of withering German machine gun and artillery fire before they even made it to shore. Those who did make it to the beaches encountered thick shell smoke that obstructed their visibility, and they heard the cries for help from their fellow soldiers lying wounded nearby as German machine gun fire relentlessly rained down on them.
Charles “Harry” Heinlein, a 22-year-old Army private from Baltimore, Maryland described the scene as total confusion, recalling, “It seemed like hours to get off the beach. At this point, the only orders being yelled to those still able to fight was, ‘Get off the beach! Get off the beach!’”
William Bladen of College Park, Maryland, was a 19-year-old paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. In the dark, early hours of that morning, Private First Class Bladen parachuted into Normandy with two 20-pound satchels of TNT attached to him, and unable to see where he would land. Mr. Bladen said “War is hell – in fact, it’s worse than hell.” But he had a mission and he did it.
Joe Heinlein of Parkville, Maryland, provided context to the American casualties suffered. He pointed out that before D-Day, Bravo Company, 175th Regiment, of the 29th Infantry Division, had about 200 men; by June 19th, only about a dozen men remained. Mr. Bladen added, “I hope people remember that a lot of men gave their lives for others.”
Freedom is not free. The Normandy American Cemetery serves as the final resting place for 9,380 American military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings. On the Walls of the Missing are inscribed another 1,557 names of Soldiers whose remains were never recovered or identified. We must never forget those who, in Abraham Lincoln’s immortal words, “have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.” The Americans who died on the beaches and in the fields of Normandy made the ultimate sacrifice, but they did not die in vain. They helped to defeat fascism, totalitarianism, and the Nazi regime. They helped to liberate Europe and the concentration camps. In General Dwight Eisenhower’s D-Day address, he declared to Allied troops, “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you… The free men of the world are marching together to victory.” We remember and we honor the intrepid heroes of the 29th Infantry Division, and all the other members of the Greatest Generation, who marched together into battle and demonstrated remarkable acts of valor and sacrifice 75 years ago tomorrow.
As the poet Archibald MacLeish wrote, “There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American Dream.” But it’s a dream that we Americans share with all people who cherish freedom and human dignity now, just as we did on June 6th, 1944.