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D-Day, the decision.

By 5 June 1944, there were close to 3 million Allied soldiers cramming the nooks and crannies of southern England. 2,876,000 Allied troops were gathered in Devon, Dorset, Sussex and Kent. Brits, Canadians, and the ubiquitous American GI - "over-sexed, over-paid, and over here," as the locals noted somewhat wryly.

While they were awaiting their embarkment orders, they continued their training for the invasion by conducting live fire exercises on hastily arranged ranges scattered across the countryside, which rather upset the natural rhythm of things.  But everyone knew the were smack dab in the middle of history.  As is usual with history-making, there was going to be blood and tears to go with sweat and toil.

The largest armada in history, made up of more than 4,000 American, British, and Canadian ships, were crowding the ports or patrolling the Channel. Over 1,200 C-47s were at airbases around which were scattered elements of the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, and British 1st Airborne divisions, ready to open the party the evening of 5 June.

The burden of this rested on the relatively narrow shoulders of General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander. He'd already called a one day rain delay - after consulting with his staff meteorologists and others, he'd decided to go ahead and issued the order that the invasion of Germany's "Festung Europa"  proceed.

With a little push of paper across his desk, Eisenhower started a ball rolling that essentially wouldn't stop until VE day, 11 months and hundreds of thousands of deaths hence.

That done, it was time to do what Generals of have done on the eve of battle since time immemorial - visit the troops.

Leaving his Portsmouth headquarters, Eisenhower first visited the British 50th Infantry Division and then the U.S. 101st Airborne at Newbury. After motoring along for an hour-and-a-half through the seemingly endless flow of troop carriers and trucks, his party arrived unannounced to avoid disrupting the aircraft embarkation which was in progress.

To reduce the inevitable disruption that would occur should everyone notice the Supreme Allied Commander, Ike had the stars on the running board of his automobile covered. But there was no hiding the rolling gait and Ike's big smile - and the troops gathered 'round in what is something of an iconic American pre-battle ritual.

Eisenhower with the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne, prior to them boarding their aircraft, 5 June, 1944

Ike's grandson David, described the scene in Eisenhower: At War 1943-1945,  as the general

...wandered through the formless groups of soldiers, stepping over packs and guns. The faces of the men had been blackened with charcoal and cocoa to protect against glare and to serve as camouflage. He stopped at intervals to talk to the thick clusters of soldiers gathering around him. He asked their names and homes. "Texas, sir!" one replied. "Don't worry, sir, the 101st is on the job and everything will be taken care of in fine shape." Laughter and applause. Another soldier invited Eisenhower down to his ranch after the war. "Where are you from, soldier?" "Missouri, sir." "And you, soldier?" "Texas, sir." Cheers, and the roll call of the states went on, "like a roll of battle honors," one observer wrote, as it unfolded, affirming an "awareness that the General and the men were associated in a great enterprise.


Great enterprise. that's one way to put it. Or, as General Eisenhower put it... "The Great Crusade." Heh. He'd get excoriated for that language today.

1 Comments

 At 70 years old I am not old enough to have been a part of this except for stories heard and told in the family.  I am however old enough to wish that more of our younger people today had the expectation that myself and my peers had that ALL OF OUR COUNTRY would stand up for us when needed.  I can hardly believe the Canadian and American people that trash our countries today. {I am a Canadian}.