D-Day plus 73 years

Troops approaching Omaha Beach in a Higgins boat on June 6, 1944. National Archives Image.

Troops approaching Omaha Beach in a Higgins boat on June 6, 1944. National Archives Image.

In combat, you have to learn to rely on the guy next to you. Sometimes, blogging is (slightly) like that — minus the danger.

I was worried that I wouldn’t have time today to write about D-Day, so Bryan Caskey did so on his blog and said I could refer y’all to it.

Thanks, Bryan! An excerpt from his post:

73 years ago, over 150,000 Allied troops landed on the shores of France, intent on reclaiming Europe from the German army that had overrun and occupied Europe. It was a calculated gamble, and the outcome was far from certain. In the early morning hours of darkness before the sun rose, thousands of men dropped from the sky in connection with the landings.

Of the over 150,000 Allied troops that landed that day, 4 received the Medal of Honor for their actions on that day. One of those men was Teddy Roosevelt’s son.

When the first waves hit the shore at Omaha Beach, they were immediately met with withering fire from fortified German positions. Omaha Beach is a curved beach, like a crescent moon, and it has high bluffs overlooking the shore. Accordingly, it was the most easily defended by the Germans….

All I’ll add for the moment is this story today about Andrew Higgins, whose little boats made down in New Orleans won the war — along with the M-1 Garand, the Jeep, the C-47 and all sorts of other legendary hardware:

D-Day’s hero: Andrew Higgins loved bourbon, cursed a lot and built the boats that won WWII

Andrew Jackson Higgins, the man Dwight D. Eisenhower once credited with winning World War II, was a wild and wily genius.

At the New Orleans plant where his company built the boats that brought troops ashore at Normandy on June 6, 1944, Higgins hung a sign that said, “Anybody caught stealing tools out of this yard won’t get fired — he’ll go to the hospital.”

Whatever Higgins did, he did it a lot. “His profanity,” Life magazine said, was “famous for its opulence and volume.” So was his thirst for Old Taylor bourbon, though he curtailed his intake by limiting his sips to a specific location.

“I only drink,” he told Life magazine, “while I’m working.”

That Higgins was able to accomplish what he did — provide U.S. forces with the means to swiftly attack beaches, including on D-Day — despite his personal shortcomings is a testament, historians say, to his relentless talent and creativity as an entrepreneur….

I sorta kinda almost have a connection to the Higgins Boats — or I thought I did, but now I doubt it. From 1965-67, I lived on an old derelict Navy base down in New Orleans — or technically, across the river in Algiers. I lived there when I was 11-13 years old. Most of the base was shut down — my friends and I almost got caught by the Shore Patrol once when we broke into and explored one of the many abandoned WWII-era buildings.

Many years later, I read the account of a WWII Navy veteran who said he was sent to Algiers to learn to be a coxswain on a Higgins boat in preparation for the invasion of Japan. So I thought, So that’s what that base was for! But I can’t seem to find any references to that on the web. And come to think of it, a place located on the Mississippi River (the levee was a block from my home, and I regularly climbed it to catch catfish) wouldn’t be a great place to train guys how to navigate a boat through surf.

Anyway, to this day I regard the landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, to be one of the most impressive things every attempted and achieved in one day in human history. So much could have gone wrong. Actually, so much DID go wrong — the bombers that were supposed to soften up the defenses missed their targets, paratroopers were dropped everywhere except where they were supposed to be, and no one seemed to know what a Norman hedgerow was like until our soldiers had to dig the Germans out from behind them.

But they got it done anyway. Astounding…

28 thoughts on “D-Day plus 73 years

  1. Burl Burlingame

    The new “Churchill” movie is quite interesting and will be much debated, as it portrays him as a human being plagued any self-doubt. Takes place on the eve of the D-Day landings and posits that he was a pain in the ass to the Allied generals, largely because of fears of creating another Gallipoli. Brian Cox plays Churchill, and is great as usual, as is Miranda Richardsonas Clemmie, and the guy who plays Jan Smuts.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m glad to hear you liked it, because I like movies about Churchill, and I’d seen some negative reviews of this one.

      Wasn’t he also concerned because of Dieppe? That one gave a lot of people pause.

      Meanwhile, what I’m REALLY looking forward to is when Gary Oldman plays Churchill in the film coming out later this year.

      Nice makeup job, eh?


      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Actually, the remarkable thing isn’t that it looks all that much like Churchill. It’s more that it doesn’t look anything like Oldman…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          After I read about the Oldman movie a couple of nights ago, I rewatched his version of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”

          Good flick, but this time I kept a running list of all the completely unnecessary departures from the novel, which really bug me.

          I’d have posted it by now, but I think I did it before. Need to go back and see if I noticed anything new this time…

  2. Bryan Caskey

    We fought a two-ocean war, supplied the Russians and the British, and the American people still had enough to get by. Our supply lines were the longest in history. We demanded and received unconditional surrenders from our foes.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yep. As I’ve said many times before, that was the generation that Did Things.

      What have we done, since maybe the 1960s? Developed smartphones?

      We used to get things (somewhat more modest things) done on the state level, too. Not anymore.

      I’m going to do a post about it. I had occasion recently to talk with some of the main players in the passage of the Home Rule Act back in the ’70s. That triumph of subsidiarity, tearing power from the hands of legislators handing (some of) it to county councils, is amazing to contemplate.

      The rural barons in the Senate did NOT want to give up that power. Today, we can’t pass a bill if ONE senator opposes it…

      1. Richard

        Pre-entitlement programs, if you didn’t work you didn’t eat. I wonder what the obesity rate was back then.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I think the obesity rate was less, among all income groups. In our grandparents day, people ate more fresh, natural food and there wasn’t so much highly processed, sugary garbage available…

          1. Richard

            Don’t forget the lack of laziness reason as well. Plus people back then were aware of their public appearance, we’re now in the era of pajamas are appropriate for most occasions.

              1. Claus2

                I could be poor if I chose to be, I could sit around the house (until the bank takes it) until I can get into a Section 8 government subsidized apartment, watch government subsidized cable television, surf government subsidized internet, talk on my government subsidized cell phone, call in an order for a delivery meal using my EBT card.

                Look around at the grocery store, or better yet Walmart, how many of those people buying groceries are poor because of issues they have no control over? I’m not talking about the 80 year old grandmother… I’m talking about the 18 year old girl with two kids, the guy who can afford tattoos, cigarettes and alcohol but needs to pay for food with his EBT card.

                1. Claus2

                  Which is another observation, ever notice people who appear to be poor also chain smoke cigarettes? I was in line behind a woman the other day who bought a pack of cigarettes… with tax it was nearly $6.00. So for the two pack a day smoker they’re spending $80 per week on cigarettes. How much food, or how much higher quality food than what they’re currently buying, does that buy?

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Yes, people who live in stressful circumstances tend to be smokers.

                    Since I can’t imagine ever smoking, I can’t explain the phenomenon, except that I hear that its a stress reliever.

                    Practically a whole generation went to war in the 1940s, and millions who had never smoked before got hooked on those free cigarettes that GIs were issued. It’s one of those WWII cliches — the guy who gets issued his free cigarettes, says, “What am I gonna do with these? I don’t smoke,” and after a day or two in a combat zone, he’s smoking like a chimney.

                    Because it’s a stress reliever. And short of combat, there are few human conditions more stressful than chronic poverty…

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “I could be poor if I chose to be.”

                  But why would you choose to be? No one does. Unless, you know, it’s a monk or someone who’s taken a vow of poverty…

                3. Richard

                  “But why would you choose to be? No one does. Unless, you know, it’s a monk or someone who’s taken a vow of poverty…”

                  Or a bum, I drive past a few everyday that think sitting in bus stop shelters and standing at intersections with “Hungry Veteran” signs. When did “Will Work For Food” stop being the popular phrase?

  3. Bart

    Memorial Day is one of the special days we celebrate and rightfully so. I believe we should also celebrate this day as well. This was the day when the allies undertook a task that could have ended in total disaster but due to cooperation, diplomacy, and leadership from all sides, it ended up being “The Longest Day” and the day that defined who we and our allies really were and should still be.

    I was six months old when these men and women who were part of the “Greatest Generation” invaded the beaches at Normandy. Men whose names are honored for their sacrifice in the face of so many odds against them. Men willing to give their lives to defeat one of the most evil leaders in modern history. Men fighting beside their compatriots from other countries and not allowing cultural differences to deter from the task at hand, defeating Germany.

    The Cemetery in Normandy has an inscription written by General Mark W. Clark.


    When I think about what happened 73 years ago and look at what is going on in our country now, it not only disgusts me, it frightens me as well. The fright is that so many rage against war and if it is an unjust war, rightfully so. But to forget and not honor the sacrifice of the allied armies when they faced odds of not coming home and America alone left behind 9,387 dead and 1,557 missing is intolerable and unforgiveable. If we don’t teach our children, grandchildren and their descendants what the sacrifice was really about, then we have failed the men and women who are in the cemeteries across Europe and in particular, Normandy. To add to the importance of keeping our allies close, we need to remember that 21,000 British men and women died in the battle to liberate France and Europe. This doesn’t include the sacrifices of the French, Canadians, and other allies who fought side by side with us.

    It is at this time in our history we need a leader, a true leader who has the heart of just one of the men or women who paid the ultimate price for freedom. I know times change and we need to adjust as well as we can but without a true leader, it becomes an impossible task unless we take the reins and stand firm with the same resolve over 150,000 had on June 6, 1943. We are not facing withering fire from German bunkers but the fire we are facing from the social, economic, and political wars that separates and divides us is just as deadly and the ultimate casualty will be this country.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It never ceases to amaze me the way people who despise the poor cling to the notion that they somehow have it easy. It’s so contrary to reality that it really must require an effort to continue to believe it.

      As for Amazon — they’re trying to bring in some revenue they wouldn’t otherwise get. Oh, you can’t afford $99 a year? We’ll take $72 from you, no problem! But first we have to KNOW you can’t pay the full price. Amazon doesn’t want to go to the hassle of investigating to establish that the customer is poor. It saves money and effort by letting the government do it. If you have an EBT card, it means you’ve been vetted, and you’re poor.

      Rather brilliant, really. Amazon brings in $72 per customer it wouldn’t otherwise get — and loads of goodwill — for next to zero expenditure.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        … all of which seems pretty mild stuff compared to the unrelenting lunacy of Trump so far.

        We had higher expectations of presidents then. Now, apparently, close to 40 percent of the population doesn’t even even expect POTUS to exhibit sanity…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yes and no. I think that 39 percent or so correlates pretty closely with his voter base.

            Of course, almost by definition, a Trump fan is someone who was and probably still is disengaged. He GOT them engaged, and as far as Republican members of Congress are concerned, they are still engaged. Or at least, a person who has to run in a GOP primary in our gerrymandered nation thinks he has to ASSUME they are still engaged…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              In 1974, Republican House members — those in the body that impeaches — had to give SOME consideration to what Democrats and independents in their districts thought. Today, that’s not the case…

              1. Richard

                Maybe you should smoke a cigarette, according to Dr. Warthen it’s a great stress reliever.

    1. Richard

      Not me, I don’t need to know the minute-by-minute details of people’s lives or whereabouts. I work in IT, don’t have any sort of social media account… the closest thing to it would probably be this blog account. My voice reaches tens of people.

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