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Alexander's Column

D-Day at 75: Two Flags and a Son's Promise Kept

To honor our Veterans, strive to be, first and foremost, an American citizen worthy of their sacrifice.

Mark Alexander · Jun. 5, 2019
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” —John 15:13

Seventy-five years ago, in the early hours of June 6th, 1944, the largest amphibious assault in history, preceded by an enormous air assault, commenced. Codenamed “Operation Neptune” but more commonly referred to as D-Day, it was the first assault of “Operation Overlord,” the Allied Forces invasion of the European continent, and the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Workers (NAZI) Party and its reign of terror across Europe.

Shortly after midnight, 2,200 Allied bombers and attack aircraft began their assault on German strongholds along the beaches of Normandy, France. The bombardment was followed by more than 24,000 U.S., British, and Canadian airborne troops who parachuted behind the beachheads, while aerial and naval bombardments continued to soften German positions at landing zones Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

Through heavy swells in the English Channel, an Allied armada was launched and, by sunrise, more than 132,000 Allied infantry began landing along 50 miles of Normandy beaches. They came in 289 escort vessels with 277 minesweepers, and they waded ashore from more than 5,000 landing and assault craft.

The NAZI defenses were formidable: 50,000 troops manning 170 coastal 100mm and 210mm artillery guns and 320mm rocket launchers rained murderous fire down upon the Allied Forces as they struggled ashore, amid endless machine-gun and sniper fire.

By the end of the first day, there were more than 10,000 Allied casualties, with 4,414 confirmed dead and as many missing in action — more single-day American battle dead than Antietam or Pearl Harbor. There were an estimated 1,000 German casualties. As the landing zones were secured in the days that followed, the initial infantry and airborne units pushed inward. By the end of June, more than 875,000 Allied troops had crossed the English Channel, and by mid-August, more than two million Allied troops had landed, incurring almost 226,000 casualties — 72,911 killed/missing and 153,475 wounded. Along with many French resistance fighters, almost 15,000 civilians were killed.

After the initial assault was underway, President Franklin Roosevelt’s message and prayer for our military personnel spoke to the enormity of the task and the arduous battles that would follow. FDR noted, “Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.” He prayed, “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.”

We should all learn more about this pivotal moment in our history, and that of the entire world, by visiting the D-Day Memorial website, the outstanding National WWII Museum website, and the Army D-Day website, where you can listen to Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s D-Day message.

Gen. Eisenhower encouraged his troops, reminding them: “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. … And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

Ike had also prepared another note in the event Operation Neptune failed: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops, my decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The free world will forever owe a debt of gratitude to all those who, by God’s grace and their sacrifice, ensured that Eisenhower did not have to deliver that second message.

Today, the NAZI bunkers above Normandy’s beaches remain as solemn and silent reminders of tyranny, and the region is now marked with many fitting tribute monuments to Europe’s liberators, and the vast American Cemetery, where 9,380 of our dead are interred and the names of 1,557 missing are memorialized. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron will join other national leaders in observance of the 75th anniversary.

Two Neighborhood Flags…

At our Patriot Post publishing office, there’s a 40-foot flagpole honoring generations of Americans past and present who have defended American Liberty at great cost.

But there are two neighborhood flags I want to tell you about – the first is in front of our home. It’s a more humble 25-foot flagpole honoring one man, and by extension, the sacrifice of his entire generation.

I raised that flag pole on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, in honor of my former next-door neighbor, 1st Lt. Marshall Goree. Marshall fought his way through Europe with the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion until the war’s end, receiving Silver and Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for his courageous actions during the Battle of the Bulge and other assaults. Marshall was a tall, strong man of equally strong presence and character. On rare occasions, he would disclose the most horrific of his enemy encounters — those that ended up in hand-to-hand combat.

Marshall was more than a Patriot and neighbor, however. He was the lifelong best friend of another WWII veteran, my father. In Southern culture, our parents’ best friends were sometimes honorary “uncles” and “aunts,” and so it was with “Uncle Marshall.” He died almost six years to the day after we raised our flag, and my father followed his friend home in 2015. Our flag reminds us of them every day.

But there’s an unfortunate footnote in the story about Marshall’s flag: Regrettably, one of our neighbors is offended by it – and set about to make that known.

Recently, we hosted a group of distinguished veterans after their return pilgrimage to Vietnam, and one friend, former POW Bill Gauntt, was puzzled by the plastic yard sign immediately across the street from our flag. That sign has a slogan promoted by the Democrat Party, proclaiming “Hate Has No Home Here” in six languages under a faux patriotic heart.

These placards popped up in the yards of “woke” leftists two years ago after the antifa/alt-right confrontation in Charlottesville, mostly displayed in front of the suburban homes of privileged white inheritance welfare liberals who form today’s vanguard of “useful idiots.”

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the message on that yard sign, other than it reflects a deranged manifestation of passive-aggressive “virtue signaling” by the those displaying it. Such signs are intended to project that their political views have higher moral authority and standing than the views of others, particularly their conservative neighbors. Notably, virtue signaling yard signs, bumper stickers and the now-ubiquitous social media profile picture frames, are most often the full extent of the “sacrifice” those displaying them undertake to actually change the world for better.

Most of those sophomoric yard signs came down within a month of the Charlottesville incident – but not the one across from our flag.

When my veteran friends asked if my neighbor disliked our flag, I related the conversation I had with him about his sign. He advised me that it was his way of protesting “the hatred fomented by Donald Trump and his ignorant, jingoistic flag-wavers,” those deplorable people who weren’t smart enough to support Hillary Clinton in 2016. I anticipated his line of “reasoning” after previously having listened to his leftist rationale for gun confiscation and his insistence on repeal of the Second Amendment.

The fact is, beyond his errant embrace of socialist ideology, my neighbor is an affable guy, and we share some common interests. So I make a habit of looking for what we can agree on, and tempering what we can’t in the context of Ronald Reagan’s observation about such misguided folks: “The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”

On this 75th anniversary of D-Day, my neighbor’s plastic virtue signal remains on display and, I should note, I defend his right to have it there.

Now, about that second neighborhood flag I mentioned… It is the 15x25 standard pictured below, hanging in the yard of another neighbor whose home fronts a community thoroughfare. It is appreciated by every American Patriot who drives by, and we are grateful for it.

A Son’s Promise Kept…

Finally, let me tell you about my friend Anthony Hodges, a fellow board member of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center and accomplished historian, who has underwritten his history habit with a successful medical practice.

In 1994, he attended the 50th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy with his father and the men of the 79th Infantry Division, with large ceremonies at Omaha and Utah beaches. His father, Carl Hodges, was at the time an 18-year-old draftee from Lewisburg, Tennessee. After six weeks of infantry basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida, in August of 1944 he was placed in Company F, 313th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division, which landed on Utah Beach.

Anthony recalls: “Near the conclusion of my ‘94 trip with my father and other veterans of the 79th, I was made an honorary member of their division, with the caveat that I return in 2019 for the 75th anniversary and place a wreath at their monument in La Haye. I was assigned this duty because, as the veterans told me then, 'you are likely the only man in this group who will be alive for the 75th anniversary.’ Sadly, this statement was correct.

"I never forgot the pledge I made in 1994, and last week I fulfilled my promise to the men of the 313th Regiment of the 79th Infantry Division, returning to Normandy and La Haye-du-Puits for a small 75th Anniversary ceremony at the 79th Division monument. As a man who is resistant to change, it was delightful to see the ONLY change in Normandy I could fathom in the intervening 25 years was the addition of more monuments and memorials to the men of Operation Overlord.

"We left the wreath as well as other mementos and read aloud each man’s name. It was very emotional to return to Normandy and remember not only my father but the other men who befriended me in 1994, took me into their association, and offered their friendship. When I get inside the ‘pearly gates,’ I will be proud to once again see my friends from the 313th Infantry Regiment of the 79th Infantry Division and tell them, ‘I did not let you down!’ I have charged my three grown children with returning in 2044 for the Normandy centennial as I, like my old veteran friends of 1994, will likely no longer be around.”

On the 40th D-Day anniversary in 1984, Ronald Reagan delivered his moving Boys of Pointe-du-Hoc address, declaring, “Let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”

And it is that vow my friend Anthony kept ahead of this, the 75th anniversary.

Thank you, Anthony, and thank you to the thousands of others who are honoring the Greatest Generation with such fitting D-Day tributes.

On Memorial Day just past, I offered this advice to those who genuinely want to demonstrate their gratitude to all who paid the highest price for their Liberty and those who want to thank active-duty and veteran military personnel today for the freedom they have, and continue to defend, at great cost: Strive to be, first and foremost, an American citizen worthy of their sacrifice.

In closing, I invite you to read our tribute to fallen American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen.

Watch composer John Williams’ moving “Hymn to the Fallen” while taking a visual tour of the only real estate Americans kept after WWII — just enough land to bury our dead.

Contemplate the words of Amazing Grace, performed last week by Alison Krauss.

And finally, listen to Taps at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” —John 15:13

On this and every day, please pray for our Patriot Armed Forces now standing in harm’s way around the world in defense of our liberty, and for the families awaiting their safe return.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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