6 – 6 – 1944

 Tomorrow comemorates the 66th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, France.
 
 
 
The invasion of Normandy was the invasion and establishment of Allied forces in Normandy, France, during Operation Overlord in World War II. The invasion was the largest amphibious operation in history.  Allied land forces that saw combat in Normandy on 6 June came from Canada, the Free French Forces, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In the weeks following the invasion, Polish forces also participated, as well as contingents from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, and the Netherlands. Most of the above countries also provided air and naval support, as did the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the Royal Norwegian Navy.
 
The Normandy invasion began with overnight parachute and glider landings, massive air attacks, naval bombardments, early morning amphibious landings on five beaches codenamed Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah, and Sword and during the evening the remaining elements of the parachute divisions landed. The "D-Day" forces deployed from bases along the south coast of England, the most important of these being Portsmouth
 
 
Standing in the way of the Allies was the English Channel, a crossing which had eluded the Spanish Armada and Napoleon Bonaparte‘s Navy. Compounding the invasion efforts was the extensive Atlantic Wall, ordered by Hitler in his Directive 51. Believing that any forthcoming landings would be timed for high tide (this caused the landings to be timed for low tide), Rommel had the entire wall fortified with tank top turrets and extensive barbed wire, and laid a million mines to deter landing craft. The sector which was attacked was guarded by four divisions.
 
 
 
 
The Normandy landings were the first successful opposed landings across the English Channel in over eight centuries. They were costly in terms of men, but the defeat inflicted on the Germans was one of the largest of the war. Strategically, the campaign led to the loss of the German position in most of France and the secure establishment of a new major front. In larger context the Normandy landings helped the Soviets on the Eastern front, who were facing the bulk of the German forces and, to a certain extent, contributed to the shortening of the conflict there.
 
Despite initial heavy losses in the assault phase, Allied morale remained high. Casualty rates among all the armies were tremendous, and the Commonwealth forces had to create a new category—Double Intense—to be able to describe them.
 
Over 10,000 brave souls lost their lives during the invasion, also known as Operation Overlord. 
 
A World War II veteran recalls his D-Day experience
 
Several months before the attack, Brooklyn native and current Las Vegas resident Gaetano Benza joined the army at the age of 18. 

"As soon as I graduated I immediately went into the service."

Instead of taking a job building plane engines for the war effort – a job that would have kept him out of harm’s way – Benza, along with thousands of other young recruits were taken from New York to Scotland and then eventually South Whales. 

"We left outside of New York on Pier 90 and we left on the ship Aquitania."

There, they began training for D-Day. 

“When we left we were never told we were going to land there. That was a surprise to land in Omaha, Normandy!"

On the morning of June 6, Benza was loaded into a British landing craft headed for Omaha Beach. 

“Going over it was terribly rough in that channel. There was a point where you just (became physically ill) all over that ship. Everybody did.”

As Allied forces approached the beach, the Germans began their attack. Benza says the film Saving Private Ryan starring Tom Hanks best portrays the hell soldiers experienced.

"The worst thing of all was the 88s. The 88s used to burst in the air and shrapnel flew all over. Without that steel helmet you were a darn fool because shrapnel penetrated very deeply and a lot of times you could hear it go ‘ping’ right off your helmet."

Many soldiers lost their lives before even stepping foot onto the beach. Benza, however, managed to survive the first leg of the historic battle.

"When you’re getting off your landing craft up to about your belly or chest and you’re getting into that water and your weapon overhead, you just had to think… you just have to get to that beach as safe as you can. I never thought I was going to make it.” 

Once on the beach, Benza tried to take cover. Firing his gun when he could, he made it to a sand dune. Later, he and a fellow soldier dug a foxhole and covered it with debris from destroyed ships that had washed ashore. 

For days, the Germans would bomb those foxholes. Benza says most nights he didn’t think he’d ever see another sunrise. 

"For me, the worst time was at night time when we were being bombed because shrapnel would fly everywhere.” 

As more ships arrived and the number of casualties grew, Benza says words fail to describe the horrors he witnessed. 

"Landings went on for five days so it wasn’t just one day. They kept coming in for five days and they were under heavy attack every time those doors opened. (D-Day) thousands lost their lives. Thousands. It was heartbreaking to come across a lot of bodies that were hit and you just don’t pay any mind even though it bothered you because your thought was to get on there, protect yourself.”

For nearly three months, Benza and thousands of Allied forces lived in their foxholes and survived on sea rations. And all the while they were fighting the German army.

By late August the Germans had been pushed back and Hitler was forced to fight the war on two major fronts: against the Russians to the east and against the United States and our Allied forces to the west. 

The D-Day invasion was a success. 

Looking back, Benza says although he’s proud of his service, the graphic images of that time still haunt him this very day. 

“We did accomplish something: We wiped out the German Nazis and we made people free again.” 

Last year, Gaetano Benza returned to Normandy for the first time since the invasion.

It was an emotional reunion for him and the other veterans as they stepped foot on the same sand once stained with the blood of their fellow soldiers. 

"It brought back a lot of memories to be on that beach.” 

Benza hopes the world never forgets the sacrifices the soldiers made that day, D-Day, June 6, 1944.

 
 
I hope we never do also…
 
 
 
 

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8 Responses to 6 – 6 – 1944

  1. Laoch says:

    Fine post. I remember being riveted by Cornelius Ryan’s Book about D-Day, "The Longest Day," when I was a boy.

  2. john says:

    thnak you

  3. Sue says:

    Thanks for the great history lesson. I’m not sure if we’ve learned from this experience, though. Unfortunately, war goes on and young men and women die. Will it ever stop?

  4. Kat says:

    Such brave men. I cannot imagine the terror and devastation they went through!!

  5. maillady says:

    I’m flying my flag high today. God Bless our troops!

  6. CAROL says:

    Miss ya around..hope you are doing okay..let us know okay.. Take care : )

  7. Joe says:

    Incredible stuff my friend…history is my thing…I never get tired of hearing about it!

  8. Dana says:

    Hi Bob! Thanks for stopping in. My precense online is so horribly sporadic. I’m not being a very good friend I’m afraid. I still have you on my messengerso maybe I’ll catch online sometime. Hope all is well with you. LOVE the profile pic! LOL

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