Operation Overlord

By the first week of June 1944, Nazi Germany controlled most of Western Europe with no sign of their being stopped. To halt their forward progress and destroy their power, Operation Overlord was the code-name given to the Allied invasion of France scheduled for June 1944. From the planning to the execution of the invasion, some of history’s best-known officers were involved in Operation Overlord. These included General Omar Bradley, Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Admiral Alan G. Kirk, Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery, Admiral Bertram H. Ramsay, General Walter Bedell Smith, and Sir Arthur Tedder. General Dwight Eisenhower was named the overall commander of Operation Overlord.

Initially, June 5 was the designated date for the landing in Normandy. Although the risks at Normandy were greater, the beaches were more conducive to a mass landing of people and equipment—an event now considered the largest amphibious assault in history. Allied forces were ready to travel by ship or plane over the English Channel to attack the German army dug in at Normandy, France. However, bad weather hit the channel on June 4. Eisenhower struggled with the idea of postponing Operation Overlord. He had a window of only four days of decent weather in which an invasion would be possible. With weather conditions predicted to worsen over the next two weeks, thousands of personnel and tons of supplies waiting to be moved, during deliberations Eisenhower pointed out, “The question is just how long can you hang this operation on the end of a limb and let it hang there.”

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Leave the Result to a Higher Power

In Leadership Lessons from Dwight D. Eisenhower #3, Brett and Kate McKay note,

At 3:30 am, June 5, Eisenhower arose for the last weather briefing. The moment of truth had arrived; the final decision had to be rendered at last. As steaming cups of coffee were passed around, the storm shook the walls of Southwick House; the weather outside offered not the slightest hint of clearing, not a bit of evidence to buttress Stagg’s forecast. But the meteorologist reiterated his prediction: the wind and rain would soon let up and a 36 hour window of fairer weather would emerge. Montgomery and Smith remained on board with moving forward; Tedder disagreed, and Leigh-Mallory continued to doubt that the skies would be clear enough for the aerial assault. Stagg left the room; no more weather reports would be available for several hours. Ike had all the information he would ever have—only he could think through every report, every commander’s opinion, and then act.

Faced with such overwhelming odds, Eisenhower turned to prayer.

Once again Ike paced the polished wood floor, chin tucked to his chest, hands clasped behind his back. The room was silent save the crackling of logs in the fireplace. After only a few turns about the room, Eisenhower faced his staff and quietly but deliberately said: “O.K., let’s go.”

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Later General Eisenhower said, “If there were nothing else in my life to prove the existence of the presence of an almighty and merciful God…,” those events of that momentous day did. He further affirmed that faith gives you the courage to make the decisions you must make in a crisis and then the confidence to leave the result to a higher Power.

Cosmo Uttero was a 20-year-old private when he took part in Operation Overlord. “Coming in I see bodies in the water and bodies on the beach, a ship on fire, and the battleship firing, and small arms coming over the cliffs,” Uttero said. “I was wondering what’s it like to die. I thought I was going to die and I didn’t know whether it was going to hurt, whether it was going to be quick. That’s one thought that struck me.”

“You become religious very quickly. Oh yes, made a lot of promises,” Uttero said. “That’s why I still believe in God.”

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A Pure Miracle

Ernie Pyle, Pulitzer Prize–winning American journalist, wrote, “Due to last-minute arrangements I didn’t arrive at the beachhead until the morning after D-Day, after our first wave of assault troops had hit the shore. By the time we got here the beaches had been taken and the fighting had moved a couple of miles inland. All that remained on the beach were some sniper and artillery fire and an occasional startling blast of a mine geysering brown sand into the airs… Now that it is over, it seems to me a pure miracle we ever took the beach at all. For some it was easy, but in this special sector where I now am our troops faced such odds that our getting ashore was like me whipping Joe Louis down to pulp.”

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God Was With Those Who Lost Their Lives

In Deliver Us From Darkness: The Untold Story of Third Battalion 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment During Market Garden, author Ian Gardner (with a foreword from Mario Dicarlo) tells of Lt. Col. Robert Lee Wolverton: “Colonel Wolverton was much loved by the men and had felt compelled to speak candidly to them before boarding the aircraft for France. Every single man had been touched in some way by his incredibly poignant and emotive words.”

Before the Normandy Landing the men were called together, the colonel said:

“Men, I am not a religious man and I don’t know your feelings in this matter, but I am going to ask you to pray with me for the success of the mission before us. And while we pray, let us get on our knees and not look down but up with faces raised to the sky so that we can see God and ask his blessing in what we are about to do.

God almighty, in a few short hours we will be in battle with the enemy. We do not join battle afraid. We do not ask favors or indulgence but ask that, if You will, use us as Your instrument for the right and an aid in returning peace to the world. We do not know or seek what our fate will be. We ask only this, that if die we must, that we die as men would die, without complaining, without pleading and safe in the feeling that we have done our best for what we believed was right. Oh Lord, protect our loved ones and be near us in the fire ahead and with us now as we pray to you.

A few hours later, 29-year-old Wolverton was killed by German machine gun fire in an orchard outside St. Come-du-Mont, Normandy, France. Even though he lost his life, this prayer of Wolverton’s gave much needed courage to his men, and has to many even today.

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God Was On The Beach On D-Day

Among those on the beach that fateful day was then 2nd Lieutenant and Chaplain Burkhalter. He was part of the Normandy invasion at Omaha beach. In his letter to his beloved wife Mabel, writes,

Nobody can love God better than when he is looking death square in the face and talks to God and then sees God come to the rescue. As I look back through hectic days just gone by to that hellish beach I agree with Ernie Pyle, that it was a pure miracle we even took the beach at all. Yes, there were a lot of miracles on the beach that day. God was on the beach D-Day; I know He was because I was talking with Him.

We thank God for the many who gave their lives for our freedom.

“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.” –President Ronald Reagan

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