D-Day: When Real Men Held The Moral High Ground

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, FRANCE - JUNE 06: Headstones of U.S. military personnel who died during the invasion of Normandy are shown in the early morning light at the Normandy American Cemetery above Omaha Beach on the 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 06, 2024 in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. U.S. President Joe Biden will join veterans, families, political leaders and military personnel in gathering in Normandy to commemorate D-Day, which paved the way for the Allied victory over Germany in World War II. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

One of the most popular books in the 1980s was the satire “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” It was a tongue-in-cheek homage to what even then was a perceived fading masculinity starting to infect our broader society.

One of the chapters listed “Historic dates in Real Man history.” Of June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day, it states: “150,000 Real Men storm Normandy beach.” In a way, I could end this piece right there, as I cannot offer a more fitting tribute to what occurred on those hallowed beaches 80 years ago today. But I will try. Because as the years pass, and the Greatest Generation fades to the point where soon they will be gone, this monumental event in the annals of war offers us both a remembrance of what was, and reflection of what we as a nation have become.

First, for those who do not know what D-Day even was (and I fear there are too many out there), a quick overview. By the spring of 1944, the war against Nazi Germany and her Axis partners had turned in the Allies’ favor. A Wehrmacht that once seemed invincible had been driven from Russia, wherein almost eight out of every ten German casualties during the war were inflicted.

Meanwhile, the Western Allies of primarily the U.S. and Britain were slowly but inexorably eating away at the periphery of Hitler’s shrinking empire while inflicting on the Axis defeat after defeat in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. At the same time United States Army Air Forces and RAF bombing raids were laying waste to German industry and cities. The walls were indeed closing in on the Third Reich.

But…so long as Hitler held on to Western Europe, with the English Channel between his armies and the Allied bases in Great Britain, the war’s ultimate outcome was hardly a fait accompli. What was needed to offer the coup de grâce was a cross-channel invasion. Although only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, the English Channel was nevertheless a formidable barrier. And even though by mid-1944 the Wehrmacht had suffered horrible losses, it was far from defeated. Thus the necessity to open a second front.

The prospects facing Allied planners were daunting. From the North Sea to the Pyrenees, the Germans, under their most revered field marshal, Erwin Rommel, had constructed a series of fortresses and bunkers, machine gun nests, pillboxes, artillery positions, concertinas of barbed wire, mines, obstacles and the like all with one goal: to prevent the Allies from getting across the channel and gaining a foothold in France from which to, as per the JCS directive to the Allied Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with other United Nations, commence operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” Indeed, some of Germany’s most powerful formations, including several of the brutally efficient and battle-tested SS-Panzer divisions, lay in wait behind what Hitler dubbed his “Atlantic Wall.” 

Operation Overlord, the codeword for the overall Normandy campaign, would be the most complex military endeavor ever attempted, the planning of which was two years in the making. While Allied agents and codebreakers worked diligently to deceive Hitler into believing the inevitable landings were to take place at Calais, the closest point to the British Isles and thus most logical target, plans were underway to eventually land on the Normandy beaches roughly 133,000 troops on day one while some 7,000 ships of all types provided transport, logistical support and shore bombardment. Clouds of Allied warplanes would fill the skies either covering the landings or raiding enemy positions and transportation centers inland, prompting the confident Eisenhower to assure his landing force: “If you see fighter aircraft over you, they will be ours.” Three airborne divisions, two U.S. and one British, would drop into occupied France the night before the landings to seize key objectives and sow chaos in the German rear. The risks were so great that Eisenhower carried in his pocket a note to be read to the public should the invaders be driven back into the sea, and the paratroopers left stranded behind the lines to be systematically wiped out by a German army that showed itself very adept at quick recovery and organizing crushing counterattacks.

As D-Day approached, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen were locked down on the southern coast of England under strict security while growing ever more anxious—the landings were already postponed a day due to inclement weather—while they contemplated the violence and lethal danger that awaited them across the water. And the Germans, expecting an invasion at some point, stood by their guns, waiting.

When in the pre-dawn light of June 6 the massive Allied flotilla appeared over the horizon and began to spread out before the flabbergasted Germans—not at Calais but 200 miles farther south at Normandy—and the big guns of escorting battlewagons opened up on them in preparation for the amphibious assault to come, what would be known as “The Longest Day” commenced.

Five beaches were targeted for invasion: Gold and Sword for the British, Juno for the Canadians, and Utah and Omaha for the Americans. Due to the brilliant stratagems of Allied intelligence, Hitler was indeed fooled. As such, he stubbornly refused to release his powerful armored columns, keeping them idle in the rear ready to move on to Calais where he expected to fight a battle that never came. By the time the Führer realized his catastrophic error, it was too late.

Each landing zone was contested to some degree, but if there was one beach where the Germans came the closest to carrying out Rommel’s orders to throw the Allies back into the water, it was on Omaha. Here the Americans landed into a buzzsaw of bullets sweeping the exposed beach while pre-sited artillery and mortars rained down on them. It was in fact touch-and-go for several hours, and evacuation was even considered. But the U.S. troops who made it to shore — an army of citizen-soldiers who nevertheless performed acts of courage and elan so astounding they’d have given the ancient Spartans reason to smile — persevered, and despite suffering horrific losses carried the day. 

Though the combat on that first day was severe and bloody, and some 10,000 of the attackers were casualties including 4,400 KIA, the Allies managed to get that coveted foothold on the continent into which would pour an endless stream of reinforcements and supplies as the beachhead expanded into the Normandy countryside. The subsequent fighting, in hedgerow terrain ideal for defense, would be prolonged, costly, and brutal. But once established on French soil, the Allies were there to stay. Ten months later, U.S. and Russian troops met at the Elbe River, and the six-year nightmare that was the war in Europe was over…and, at least for Western Europe, freedom and civil liberties were restored to a long-suffering people.

Beyond destroying Hitler’s Third Reich, by landing in France and moving eastward through the Low Countries and into Germany itself, the Western Allies’ presence on the continent which D-Day made possible prevented the spread of Stalinist butchery farther west into Europe, protecting generations from virtual enslavement under the jackboot of the hammer and sickle. It was a good day for freedom all around.

If this all seems like a long time ago it was. And not just in terms of calendar years. Since the end of World War II, with the exception of Korea, the U.S., though engaged in too many wars to count from massive undertakings in Southeast Asia to proxy wars such as Ukraine today, has never again held the undisputed moral high ground it did on that terrible yet magnificent June day in 1944. World War II has often been called “the last good war” and, though a simplistic moniker, it was as close to one as we ever fought since the war that emancipated our fellow Americans, coincidentally enough, 80 years prior on our own soil.

Sadly, one cannot help but think the goodwill and moral capital we so justifiably earned on this day of days and many others throughout that awful calamity that was the Second World War has been squandered, one ill-fated, ill-conceived act of military adventurism at a time. One can say that the advent of the American Empire could be traced to the sands of Normandy. And, as with all empires, we are destined to fall. We are, in fact, seeing the classic signs of decline today. Among them are the over-expansion of a nation’s military far beyond its own borders; we currently have nearly 800 bases in over 70 countries. Another is an insurmountable national debt; debt service is now eclipsing military spending. Another still is decadence at home; I’ll let you ponder this while the next “Drag Queen Story Hour” comes to your schools.

One must wonder, then, if any of the remaining D-Day veterans might take the measure of the country they were once willing to die for and find today’s America worth storming another Normandy Beach to preserve. I wonder.

What we do know, however, with absolute certainty is that a lot of real men did do incredible things on this day 80 years ago. They did it not for conquest, treasure, or vendetta, but rather to liberate a people they never knew, in countries they’d only heard about, from an oppressive force so evil it had to be destroyed. They met the challenge. And so we salute them all.

* * *

Brad Schaeffer is a commodities trader, author, columnist, and musician whose eclectic body of writing can be found in the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, New York Daily News, Daily Wire, National Review, The Hill, The Federalist, Zerohedge, and others. His latest book LIFE IN THE PITS: My Time As A Trader On The Rough-And-Tumble Exchange Floors is available on Amazon and soon Audible. 

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated two U.S. airborne divisions would drop into occupied France. There were, in fact, three divisions that would drop into France, two American and one British. The article has been edited to reflect the change.

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