View Full Version : D-Day defined:Oral histories present complete story of Normandy

06-03-04, 07:25 AM
Issue Date: June 07, 2004

D-Day defined

By Don De Nevi
Special to the Times

As nearly definitive an account of the D-Day landings along France’s Normandy coast in World War II as is likely to be published, “Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944” brings D-Day into sharp focus on the 60th anniversary of the greatest and most successful amphibious assault of all time.
Combining more than 500 hitherto unheard oral histories and rare, mostly unpublished eyewitness accounts — many originating just days after the event — with official reports and other sources, Joseph Balkoski concentrates on the brutal realities of combat experienced by those who fought it.

Hour by hour, day after day, readers relive the events leading up to the assault, the heartbreak of the losses of the beach battles that followed, and the tough Allied campaign that broke through the hedgerows to chase Hitler’s armies back to Germany.

Contrasting with Balkoski’s meticulously reconstructed chronicle and fidelity to facts are gritty personal emotions — tense admissions of fear, anger, determination, perseverance and hope — as the grand-scale drama unfolds.

It is axiomatic that in every war, no military operation ever goes according to plan. And using a series of detailed maps to illustrate the progress of the assault, “Omaha Beach” details how D-Day was no exception. But compared to other amphibious operations that preceded it, the Normandy invasion succeeded, primarily because of the enormous buildup of forces and supplies and the intelligence that guided their disposal during the invasion.

Prior to Balkoski, only one person attempted to tell a detailed story of the logistics and intelligence behind the scenes, and that was in 1945. Lt. Col. Charles Taylor, a former Harvard history professor then assigned as U.S. Army historian, wrote “Omaha Beachhead” for a military audience. Published by the War Department, the scholarly text was brilliant.

Six decades and six visits to Omaha Beach convinced Balkoski a second history of the invasion was needed. In his preface, he writes: “My family and I resided in Normandy, a farmhouse in Colleville-sur-Mer, the embodiment of a rural Norman village that also happened to be a crucial American D-Day objective. I walked all points of historical significance on Omaha Beach. Every walk triggered deep emotions, enough for me to track down every archival record available. On the exact spots of forgotten fighting I was filled with deep sadness as I stood at the precise spots where fellow Americans died. I was determined that a thorough story of the landing be written while there were still those alive who had actually lived it.”

Picking up where Taylor left off, and with a fresh perspective, Balkoski resolved to use eyewitness accounts and oral histories selectively in support of a conventional narrative. They testify the events did indeed occur and clarify the complex maneuvers that characterized the struggle.

“They heighten the human story. Any book that does not impart the sentiments within first-person accounts of their overwhelming and dreadful experiences is incomplete,” Balkoski writes. Hence, each eyewitness statement is identified by its originator and his military role at the time he wrote or spoke it.

“Omaha Beach” is the closest you and I will ever come to being at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Remarkably balanced, the result of substantial research, to say nothing of being a labor of love, “Omaha Beach” is not only a fitting tribute to the troops who died there and the veterans who survived, but also an indispensable history of one of our nation’s most critical days.

Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944, by Joseph Balkoski, Stackpole Books, 432 pages, $27

Don De Nevi is a freelance writer and author based in California.

Further reading
Other D-Day books available now or coming out this summer:
• D-Day Bombers: The Veteran’s Story, by Stephen Darlow, Grub Street, 256 pages, $36.95, July.

An eyewitness account of the contributions of heavy bombers to the D-Day campaign. Eight different British and American aircrews tell their stories of operations before, during and after D-Day.

• American Nightingale: The Story of Frances Slanger, Forgotten Heroine of Normandy, by Bob Welch, Atria Books, 308 pages, $22, June.

Slanger, the daughter of a Jewish fruit peddler whose parents immigrated from Poland when she was 7, was one of the first U.S. nurses to reach the Normandy beaches in 1944. She tended wounded troops until October of that year, when she was killed as German troops shelled her field hospital.

• The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice, by Alex Kershaw, De Capo, 274 pages, $14.95, paperback edition available in June.

The first wave of the D-Day invasion carried ashore a group of soldiers from Bedford, Va. Within minutes, 19 lay dead. A total of 21 would die at Normandy. No American town suffered a greater one-day loss than the small, impoverished town in southern Virginia, today the site of the National D-Day Memorial.

• Dawn of D-Day: These Men Were There, 6 June 1944, by David Howarth, D-Day 60th Anniversary Edition by Stackpole Books and Greenhill Books, 216 pages, $19.95.

Originally published in 1959, this special edition is based on interviews of D-Day veterans by Howarth, a war correspondent for the BBC in World War II.

• Normandy, The Real Story, by Brig. Gen. Denis Whitaker and Shelagh Whitaker with Terry Copp, Presidio Press, 366 pages, $15.95.

Bucking conventional wisdom that sheer force overwhelmed the German defenses at Normandy, the authors, including the late Canadian brigadier general, present the case for how ordinary soldiers took on two better-equipped and, in some cases, better-led, German armies and won the war.

• Ten Days to D-Day, by David Stafford, Little, Brown, 377 pages, $26.95.

Ten days, 10 chapters, 10 characters. Stafford, a former diplomat and the author of critically acclaimed books on intelligence and World War II, examines the actions of key national leaders and ordinary citizens in the days leading up to the Normandy invasion.



06-03-04, 07:38 AM
A little history on the term D-Day and H-Hour;

The terms D-day and H-hour are used for the day and hour on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. They designate the day and hour of the operation when the day and hour have not yet been determined, or where secrecy is essential. The letters are derived from the words for which they stand, "D" for the day of the invasion and "H" for the hour operations actually begin. There is but one D-day and one H-hour for all units participating in a given operation. It is unnecessary to state that H-hour is on D-day.

When used in combination with figures and plus or minus signs, these terms indicate the length of time preceding or following a specific action. Thus, H-3 means 3 hours before H-hour, and D+3 means 3 days after D-day. H+75 minutes means H-hour plus 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Planning papers for large-scale operations are made up in detail long before specific dates are set. Thus, orders are issued for the various steps to be carried out on the D-day or H-hour minus or plus a certain number or days, hours, or minutes. At the appropriate time, a subsequent order is issued that states the actual day and times.

The earliest use of these terms by the U.S. Army that the Center of Military History has been able to find was during World War I. In Field Order Number 9, First Army, American Expeditionary Forces, dated September 7, 1918: "The First Army will attack at H hour on D day with the object of forcing the evacuation of the St. Mihiel Salient."

D-day for the invasion of Normandy was set for June 6, 1944, and that date has been popularly referred to by the short title "D-day." (In French, it is called jour-J.)

Source: The General Service Schools, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Combat Orders (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: The General Service Schools Press, 1922).

I wanted the answer because my youngest son ask me what did the D in D-Day stand for, I now know the answer to that question...

Semper Fidelis/Semper Fi

06-29-04, 10:19 AM
World War II veteran receives D-Day honors
June 29,2004

In a town bordering the one where "Freedom Fries" symbolized American contempt for the French reaction to the war in Iraq, the display at Dr. Richard Borden's Morehead City home is probably the only one of its kind in the area. An American flag drapes across Borden's front door. A French one hangs on the wall to Old Glory's right.

Borden, 78, was one of 100 American veterans of the Second World War who were invited by the French government to return to Normandy and to receive the country's prestigious Legion of Honor award during ceremonies surrounding the 60 anniversary of D-Day. While in Paris, Borden was having coffee when a Frenchman he didn't know walked over and draped the flag across Borden's shoulder.

"Every, every, everybody in France," said Borden, "was on a roll to say thanks."

Their welcome began with a reception at the French Embassy in Washington D.C. on June 3. When part of the group arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel in Paris, more than 100 employees, "including the cooks with the big white hats," were waiting in the middle of the street to cheer for their honored guests.

Borden, a Goldsboro native, and the 99 others were named Knight of the Legion of Honor for "participation in the liberation of France" during a June 5 award ceremony, which was followed by a reception at the American Embassy in Paris.

And on the 60 anniversary of D-Day, an American-French ceremony jointly hosted by Presidents George Bush and Jacques Chirac was held at the American Cemetery in Normandy and followed by an international ceremony.

During the services, Borden wore the bloody, ragged Red Cross arm band that he normally keeps in a frame on his office wall. He also had on the medals, including the Croix de Guerre and Bronze Star, he received for his actions on the day 60 years before when he had gone ashore at Omaha Beach, Easy Red, as a corpsman with 6th Naval Beach Battalion, which was attached to the Army's 5th Brigade of Combat Engineers.

"The whole thing was absolutely incredible," said Borden, who traveled with his daughter Carmen, 19; son Bo, 18; and cousin Julia Spicer. "You can imagine my thrill being there with family."

While most of the invited guests returned home June 7, Borden stayed to take care of more personal business.

Paul Borden Jr., a first lieutenant in the Army's Lightning Division, died Feb. 5, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge.

"I absolutely hero worshipped him," said Borden of the brother eight years his senior. Borden visited the soldier's grave in the World War II Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial.

At his brother's final resting place, Borden kissed his ring and touched it to the four points of the cross that mark his brother's passing. Then he unpinned his Legion of Honor medal and stuck it in the ground for a few moments to share with his older brother the glory that Borden said he received on behalf of all veterans of the Second World War.

"I had some tears in my eyes," said Borden, "but I didn't lose my cool."

That happened just days before as he overlooked a map that detailed the June 6, 1944, invasion.

"I lost my cool there at that map," said Borden.

Ten days later, he started to lose it again as he read the thank-you notes written by strangers and brought home from the visit.

"I can't even read them without cracking a little bit," said Borden, his voice breaking. "They do owe us their freedom. Not me personally, but whatever."

As part of the journey, Borden met with Hanny Evers, the Dutch woman who has tended his brother's grave for nearly 60 years. He also worked in a visit with the daughter of his deceased skipper.

"We just did it all," said Borden. "The most notable part was revisiting my brother's grave."

Borden returned home June 12 and was busy trying to write thank-you notes to everyone he had met or by whom he had been honored.

"I'm still recovering. It was just non-stop," said Borden, who proudly displayed his new award and the souvenirs he brought home.

Among those souvenirs is a bottle of champagne, encased in a wooden box and presented by the hotel. Borden said he's saving that bottle for his final "adventure."

"I'm gonna suggest," said Borden, "that they crack this when they get me to Goldsboro and bury me."