Madam Speaker, today, we honor the brave men who stormed the beaches of Normandy 66 years ago. I hope H. Res. 1251 causes Members of this body and our Nation to pause, even if for just a moment, and remember what 70,000 brave Americans did on June 6, 1944. June 6, 2010 marked the 66th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy.
It was an invasion whose timing depended on Mother Nature as much as anything. Only a full moon would provide enough light. The tide had to be low enough to allow those manning the landing crafts to see German obstacles on the French shore but high enough for our troops to avoid too much unprotected beach.
Code-named "Operation Overlord," the invasion would give Allied Forces a chance to break the Nazi's hold on Western Europe, but was expected to come at an extremely high cost. For paratroopers, including members of the 101st Airborne and the 82nd Airborne Divisions, the likelihood of death was seventy percent.
On the day it launched, even the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, was uncertain the invasion would succeed. He penned a note, to be released in the event of failure, stating that all blame was entirely his.
At 6:30, on the morning of June 6, Americans landed on two of five Normandy beaches earmarked for the invasion: Utah and Omaha. Bombers did their best to pave the way. The B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-24 Liberators, and B-26 Marauders filled the sky. Their task was to drop their 500 pound bombs right at the water's edge, to stun or kill the Germans in their pillboxes, forts, and trenches. Lt. William Moriarity, a B-26 pilot, said, "As we approached the coast, we could see ships shelling the beach. One destroyer, half sunk, was still firing from the floating end. The beach was a bedlam of exploding bombs and shells."
Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., former President Teddy Roosevelt's son, was in the first boat to hit the shore at Utah beach. Maj. Gen. Ray Barton had initially refused Roosevelt's request to go in with the 8th Infantry, but Roosevelt had argued that having a general land in the first wave would boost morale for the troops. "They'll figure that if a general is going in, it can't be that rough." Almost all the objectives were accomplished. In the span of 15 hours. the Americans put ashore at Utah more than 20,000 troops and 1,700 motorized vehicles. By nightfall, the division was ready to move out at first light on June 7 for its next mission.
If the Germans were going to stop the invasion anywhere, it would be at Omaha Beach. It was an obvious landing site with the only sand beach within 25 miles. There was no way to outflank it, with cliffs on each side. Fortifications and trenches could be easily built on the slope of the bluff, giving the Germans the high ground looking down on a wide, open killing field. Although Eisenhower hated the idea of assaulting it, it had to be done. The gap between Utah and the British beaches was too big.
When the ramps went down, the Germans opened fire. "We hit the sandbar," one coast guardsman recalled, "dropped the ramp, and then all hell poured loose on us. The soldiers in the boat received a hail of machine-gun bullets." The bluffs were too steep for a vehicle or even a man to get up them. So the plan was to go up the ravines instead. But the Germans knew this and zeroed in on the ravines, raining artillery fire down on them.
Junior officers and noncoms who had been college students two years before were pinned down at the sea wall and couldn't retreat. It was absolute chaos behind them. But they couldn't go up the ravines or stay where they were. They were getting butchered because the Germans had fixed their mortars on them and were coming down on top of them.
So junior officers across the beach looked at the situation and said, "The hell with this. If I'm going to get killed, I'm going to take some Germans with me." And he would call out, "Follow me," and up he would start. Sgt. John Ellery of the 16th Regiment, was one of those leaders said, "we sometimes forget, I think, that you can manufacture weapons, and you can purchase ammunition, but you can't buy valor and you can't pull heroes off an assembly line."
In 1964, Walter Cronkite interviewed General Eisenhower on Omaha Beach. Looking out at the Channel, Eisenhower said, "It's a wonderful thing to remember what those fellows 20 years ago were fighting for and sacrificing for, what they did to preserve our way of life. Not to conquer any territory, not for any ambitions of our own. But to make sure that Hitler could not destroy freedom in the world, to think of the lives that were given for that principle, it just shows what free men will do rather than slaves."
Hitler didn't believe this was ever possible. Hitler was certain that the soft, effeminate children of democracy could never become soldiers. Hitler was certain that the Nazi youth would always outfight the Boy Scouts, and Hitler was wrong. The Boy Scouts took them on D-day.
In the end, it was no easy fight. More than 1,400 Americans lost their lives that day in a land they had never seen to free a people they had never met. For those who survived, the horrific sights and sounds of that day were singed on their memories. Many would return home, unable to ever speak of that fateful day again. The memories were too overwhelming to recall.
Pvt. Felix Branham was a member of K Company, 116th Infantry, the regiment that took the heaviest casualties of all the Allied regiments on D-day. "I have gone through lots of tragedies since D-day," he said. "But to me, D-day will live with me till the day I die, and I'll take it to heaven with me. It was the longest, most miserable, horrible day that I or anyone else went through. I would not take a million dollars for my experiences, but I surely wouldn't want to go through that again for a million dollars."
For others, only a visit back to Normandy would break the chains off their lips and allow them to once again speak of that day. For us, today, 66 years later, we honor them and recognize their enormous accomplishment.
It is impossible to exaggerate what they did that day. As renowned historian Stephen Ambrose put it, "It was the pivot point of the 20th century." They won freedom for the world that day, but at tremendous cost. In all, 9,387 GIs lie in rest at Normandy.
Today we say to them and the thousands of others who gave their lives that we will not forget your sacrifice.
And that's just the way it is.