Do you know what today is?
|The Medal of Honor, Our Nation's Highest Military Award|
69 years ago today the U.S. and its allies landed in Normandy. We must remember our history or we are doomed to perish as the Bible says for a lack of knowledge.
It is the veteran, not the preacher who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the veteran, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the veteran not the poet who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the veteran who is authorized to salute the flag. It is the veteran who when he dies lies under the flag.
|D-Day the 50 mile front|
I have always dreamed of being in the first wave going ashore on Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944. I dreamed of being in a Higgins assault boat riding in the choppy sea and looking inward to the shore. I know I would have been frightened and praying to my Savior to save me from the German machine guns, mortars and artillery.
For the young men, most in their twenties, D-Day was the pivotal day of their lives.
Imagining a battle long gone is imperfect in the best of circumstances, in spite of the fact that I have read extensively on this battle and watched the great movie “The Longest Day” several times.
Something extraordinary happened on the 6th day of June in Normandy.
|Ike talks to the men of the 101st Screaming Eagles|
|Ike's short speech before the invasion|
The invasion began shortly after midnight with the paratroopers going in first. Then the heavy assault came at dawn on June 6, 1944. A North Atlantic storm had hammered the beaches the day before and Ike’s weather forecasters told him the storms would resume a few days later. Ike threw the dice, prayed and said let’s go! On the day the forces came ashore, there was a break in the wind and rain. But it was still cold, wet and terrifying. The invasion took place at low tide because the Germans had placed obstacles that, at high tide, would be submerged and tear out the bottoms of the landing craft. The invasion was set for low tide because the obstacles would be revealed. The soldiers who landed went across a vast, flat expanse of sand to a sea wall that is no longer there.
|Stand Up, Hook Up and Shuffle to the Door|
Try to imagine what it is like to force yourself to walk across the beach water logged, with heavy packs, weapons and machine gun fire raking the beach and mortars falling all around you. By the way, they had no bullet proof vests.
As a soldier I know l would have forced myself to keep moving in order to avoid being killed.
We in the military know we cannot let down our buddies down. We count on each other. Death was random that morning, as it is in all wars. Friends, no amount of your skill or courage can prevent your death in battle. A man simply places his soul in the hands of his God and keeps moving forward.
|The WWII glider, death traps|
In some battles, there is a degree of wit and skill that gives you the illusion that you might have control over your fate. There was no such illusion at Omaha Beach. Some lived, some died, and virtue had little to do with it.
|He paid the ultimate price for you and his buddies|
Bodies washed up on the beaches for weeks after the invasion
By the way, today, in peace time it still takes about five minutes to go from the water's edge to the place where the sea wall was in June 1944.
|The Infamous Sea Wall|
I focus on Omaha Beach not because the British at beaches codenamed Sword and Gold, the Canadians at Juno or the other Americans at Utah were less brave than the men at Omaha, but because the defeat of Nazi Germany was sealed that day on Omaha Beach. The plan of the invasion was to land the British and Canadian forces to the east, as far as the town of Ouistreham. The Americans landed at Utah, at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, and at Omaha. It was a 50-mile front. There was no chance of creating a continuous front that day, but the expectation was that the landing forces on the five beaches, plus the airborne troops behind enemy lines, would link up and create a foothold that could withstand German Panzer counterattacks.
|D-Day plus 1|
An enormous number of things went wrong that day. Landing craft could not make it into the beach, and men drowned when they left the craft under fire and could not swim with all their equipment. The rip tides and ocean currents forced landing craft to land at wrong places. The naval gunfire and bombers could not destroy the German positions. The airborne assault was chaotic as troops were scattered all over the region and landed in fields flooded by the Germans and drowned. The amphibious tanks had trouble being amphibious. A crucial tank regiment sank, every tank was lost.
|We can never re-pay this veteran of D-Day|
As Lincoln said, we the living cannot dedicate, consecrate or hallow this ground .
The men who died here consecrated it
I reflect that had the modern media been there, they would have declared the landing a failure and demanded that Eisenhower resign or be investigated. In fact, Ike had his resignation prepared. Even after the landings proved a success, I can imagine op-ed pieces and television commentators, as well as senators and congressmen, asking how Eisenhower could not know that naval gunfire could not clear the defenses.
|President Reagan and Nancy honor the dead at Normandy|
Talking heads do not know that all the planning in the world is of little value when chance, the enemy and miscalculation intervene. General George Patton said the battle plan is worthless after the first five minutes of battle. Those who have not fought wars demand precision from commanders that they themselves are incapable of in their own, much simpler lives.
160,000 troops landed within 24 hours on a 50-mile front. Chaos was inevitable. The invasion achieved the mission and changed history.
It was not certain that the Omaha beach head could be held. The German troops deemed inferior by Allied intelligence fought with courage and tenacity. I loathe Nazi Germany with a personal hatred. I am at a loss as to how to evaluate a man who fights with gallantry for a cause I loathe. At Omaha the Germans fought so well that it seemed that most of the men crossing the vast beach would die and those who made it to the sea wall would lose the spirit for the next step.
If the Omaha Beach invasion had failed, a gap would have been left between the British and Canadians to the east and Utah on the peninsula. General Bernard Montgomery, commanding the British troops, had said he would take Caen the first day. He failed to do so. That meant that there was no anchor for the British position, and that German armor could have contained the Brits and destroyed them, attacking them from Omaha Beach and all other directions. The artificial harbors, the Mulberries, as they were codenamed, were supposed to be at the town of Arromanches and at Omaha. Without Omaha, there would have been only one Mulberry for landing the follow-on equipment and supplies.
If Omaha had failed, I think Eisenhower would have withdrawn and the invasion would have failed and no other invasion would have been possible until a year later. A landing could not take place in autumn or winter because of the rough seas in the English Channel. That meant the Soviets would have faced the Germans, now secure in the west, for another year. The Soviets had already lost an estimated 20 million men; however, the exact number will remain forever unknown. No matter how great their rage, the Soviets would be facing several more years of slaughter. In fact, the farther west the Soviets went, the shorter the German supply line got and the more tenacious the German defense. For example, the Soviets lost ½ million men taking Berlin. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Soviet Union might have made a separate peace as Lenin had in March 1918. How much more could the Soviets take? The concentration of 3 million German soldiers on the Eastern front might have proved unbearable. It is one thing to ask for sacrifice with an end in sight. But how much can you ask from your people when all there is for them is war and death, and there is no end?
It is not unthinkable, then, that the Nazi regime might have survived if the Normandy landings failed. Germany's domination of Europe would have continued. These are not far-fetched thoughts. If Germany's domination had continued my wife, you and I might not be here because our fathers and some of our mothers were in the U.S. military.
In June 1944 the Nazis began rounding up the Hungarian Jews and sending them to the death camps. If the war had continued past 1945 few Jews would have been left alive.
Now, my own life is a trivial matter except to my Savior, my wife, my children, some friends and me. But multiply it by millions, not only Jews, but all those under German domination and the landing on the Normandy coast was as desperate for those who waited as for those who landed. It was on Omaha Beach that the battle turned, and with it, history.
It was not the generals and their staff members who turned the tide on Omaha. It was the enlisted men, the junior officers and sergeants who made the difference. In other words it was the people in the proverbial “trenches”. As a war drags one begins to get the feeling that one has nothing to lose. If the soldiers stayed on the beach, it was simple they were going to die. It takes enormous courage not to be paralyzed in fear. It was training, but you cannot train a man whose soul rebels to do his duty. Yes, they are your buddies, but there were many armies in which all of the buddies decided they've had enough. Indeed, that was the case with the largest surrender in U.S. history in the Philippines.
But there was something else, something far deeper about Omaha Beach and D-Day, a belief in almighty God. Belief in God is far more complex than patriotism. There were towns that prayed Psalm 91 every day in WWII for their sons, daughters and fellow citizens. In one case, Sea Drift, Texas not one of their 52 soldiers were killed in WWII, Korea or in Vietnam.
I believe the casualties were so horrendous on the Eastern Front because godless Nazism was fighting godless communism. Hence, the devil had his best war ever. Do you think it was an accident that the U.S. suffered the fewest casualties among the great nations in WWI and WWII? I don’t
At Omaha beach our men fought and won.
This was considered the good war. The U.S. forces were welcomed as liberators; their sacrifice is honored on French soil in a cemetery on top of the bluffs that reminds us of what we lost. French children tour the cemetery in hushed tones. It is a sacred place and a place that binds us together. There has not been a war as clean and proper since then, and I think there will not be one again until Megiddo.
Power, as I have said, leads to ambiguity. This was true in World War II as well. The Soviets believed the United States and Britain deliberately refused to invade before 1944 because they wanted Soviet blood to break the Wehrmacht first. They have never really forgiven us for that. The Americans say that we were simply not ready to go until 1944. It is an interesting argument. It is the beginning of the ambiguity of power. Roosevelt clearly preferred Soviet deaths to American. He was the American president; after all, he and other leaders said the United States wasn't ready. But what constitutes readiness, when we can do it with the least cost, or when it is most needed?
Who knows what the results of an uncensored war would have been as the massive mistakes became evident? What would have happened if the Germans had discovered that their Enigma code was broken? Where would millions be if the Allies had not been ruthless in enforcing a lie that Patton would invade at the Pas de Calais?
Folks, truth is the first casualty of war.
America emerged from WII with super power status. In fact, in August 1945 the United States was on top of the world and we had no enemies.
|The 1st Division Patch, "The Big Red One"|
I marvel at the men who fought at Omaha Beach. I will not say with certainty that they saved Western civilization from moral monsters, but if there were ever men on whom history turned, then it was the men of the 1st, The Big Red One Division and 29th Divisions, and the men of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions who assaulted Pointe du Hoc.
Pointe du Hoc is a cliff at the western end of Omaha Beach, and it captured the complexity of the battle. The men of the Second Rangers climbed ropes and ladders to the top of the cliff to destroy German guns. The guns weren't there, Intelligence had failed them. I can only imagine their rage, but I am in awe of what they did next. They moved inland to find other guns to destroy, and spent days surrounded by Germans, fighting them off, until they linked up with the troops from Omaha. Pointe du Hoc was an intelligence failure that cost lives, but was redeemed by the will, ingenuity, adaptability and courage of the Rangers.
General Keith Ware participated in the D-Day Invasion. He died in a chopper crash in Vietnam in 1968. He was born on November 23, 1915; Keith Lincoln Ware was awarded the Medal of Honor for service in World War II. He was a career Army officer.
General Ware was the Commanding General of the 1st Infantry Division and was killed on September 13, 1968 as his command helicopter crashed in flames near the Cambodian border during the Vietnam War.
Eight persons were aboard the craft when it went down in the jungle about 60 miles north of Saigon. There were no survivors. He and three staff officers were reported aboard the helicopter with the normal crew of four. It was not immediately determined whether the craft had been shot down by enemy fire. The spokesman said that there was no ground action in the immediate area at the time. The craft crashed in dense jungle growth about seven miles south of the Cambodian border.
The 52-year-old General, who had joined the Army a draftee in World War II, was the fourth American General killed in the Vietnam War. He had been in Vietnam about nine months at the time of his death.
|Medal of Honor winner LTC Keith Ware in WWII|
Ware was the first OCS graduate to reach the rank of general and the highest-ranking officer killed during the Vietnam War. He was an unassuming hero who went where the action was.
Ware he got to know Audie Murphy up close and personal on October 2, 1944. Murphy saved Ware's life that day by single-handedly rescuing a 15th Infantry Regiment patrol near the Cleuire Rock Quarry in France - thereby earning his first Silver Star, according to information received from Terry Murphy, son of the most decorated combat soldier of World War II.
Lieutenant Colonel Ware, 1st Battalion executive officer, had joined a small patrol probing German lines where he and the others were helplessly pinned down by an enemy machine gun with rifle support.
Staff Sergeant Murphy, who was not part of the patrol, had recognized the danger and secretly followed behind about 25 yards. "I figured those gentlemen were going to run into trouble; so I tagged along ... to watch the stampede" he told newspaper columnist and friend David McClure years later.
As the German machine gunner was about to finish off Ware and the patrol, Murphy stepped into the open just eight yards from the enemy. Murphy's famous luck was with him as the enemy gun barrel caught some brush as it swung around.
Murphy finished off all eight ambushers with two grenades and his carbine in less than 30 seconds. That earned Murphy his first Silver Star, but a modest Murphy failed to even mention the incident in his autobiography "To Hell and Back."
Just three days later, Murphy would be credited with inflicting 50 enemy casualties in a single engagement and earn a second Silver Star.
A day before that action Murphy took Ware along on one of his dangerous sniper hunts. Ware was witness to Murphy out dueling a sniper and capturing a prized high-powered rifle and scope.
Ware never forgot the sharpshooting boyish Texan who saved his life. In 1964, as a brigadier general, he said "Audie Murphy was without a doubt the finest soldier I have ever known in my entire military career."
And Ware knew what courage was. When one of his assault companies was stopped and forced to dig in on December 26, 1944, Ware personally went to get them moving. Ware exposed himself to heavy German artillery, machine gun and mortar fire for two hours scouting a fortified hill 150 yards beyond friendly lines.
He then went back to the American line, armed himself with an automatic rifle and led a small group in attacking the stronghold. He took out four German machine gun positions and an undetermined number of enemy casualties.
Murphy went on to become the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II, have a long movie career and a somewhat noted songwriter.
Ware went on to receive the Medal of Honor for his December 26 exploit in World War II and then to fight one of the greatest battles of the Vietnam War.
Ware was known for keeping his cool under fire and instilling confidence in those around him. Vietnam was no exception.
Although Major General Ware's name never became synonymous with the Tet Offensive of 1968, it was he who organized and led the successful defense of Saigon.
The Tet attacks began on January 31, corps commander Lieutenant General Frederick C. Weyland had been analyzing recent enemy troop movements and he anticipated the surprise Tet offensive.
Weyland ordered Ware to Saigon on February 1, after the coordinated Viet Cong attack reached the U.S. Embassy there.
Forming Task Force Ware, the general assumed operational control of all American fighting units fighting in and around the South Vietnamese capital.
Just like the patrol at Cleuire Rock Quarry and during the Battle of the Bulge, Ware wanted to be up front and see the situation first hand.
Under heavy fire several times himself, Ware calmly went about his business of clearing the enemy from the city. After 18 days of fighting, Ware dismantled his task force and let the South Vietnamese Army claim the honor of winning the battle.
After Tet, Ware took command of the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One, and again he refused to command from the rear.
On September 13, 1968, there was a lot of activity near An Loc and Ware decided to fly up there and get a handle on what was going on.
David Hack was a Ranger sergeant in the 1st Infantry Division. After Hack was wounded in April 1968, Ware appointed him as his NCOIC of Protocol.
"Basically, I protected his back - plain and simple", Hack said. Hack went everywhere with Ware, except on that Friday the 13th when a young lieutenant ordered Hack off the aircraft so he could take his seat.
The lieutenant told Hack the general wanted him to travel to An Lock with an armored unit. When Hack protested and told the officer he did not believe him, the lieutenant harshly ordered him off the aircraft.
Also on board the Huey helicopter was Command Sergeant Major Joseph Veneable, for whom Fort Hood's Veneable Village is named.
The final passenger was King, the general's great white German Shepherd given to him by Long Range Recon Patrol members. King went everywhere with Ware. He died with him, too.
Hack said he believes the helicopter was hit by a Rocket Propelled Grenade because the Huey exploded in mid-air. On his way to meet a commander that would never show, Hack earned a second Purple Heart when his vehicle was struck by an RPG.
Hack had many late night conversations with Ware, who he said was very pleasant and a true professional, but he never talked about himself - or Murphy.
Murphy never forgot Ware and considered him a good friend. He took the news report of Ware's death very hard. Murphy died just three years later in an airplane crash on May 28, 1971 in Virginia.
In 1971, Command Sergeant Major Gary G. Beylickjian, who had met Ware in Vietnam, was the only enlisted soldier in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs. That October, it was decided the Army's annual journalism awards need some character, Adding the name Keith L. Ware was the solution and in 1972, Beylickjian was part of the ceremony honoring the first Keith L. Ware Award winners. Mrs. Ware was on hand to help with the presentation.As for the question of who was Keith L. Ware, maybe the answer is simply an American soldier. Some people might say hero, but Ware never did.
Commanding the 1st Battalion attacking a strongly held enemy position on a hill near Sigolsheim, France, on 26 December 1944, found that 1 of his assault companies had been stopped and forced to dig in by a concentration of enemy artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire. The company had suffered casualties in attempting to take the hill. Realizing that his men must be inspired to new courage, Lt. Col. Ware went forward 150 yards beyond the most forward elements of his command and for 2 hours reconnoitered the enemy positions, deliberately drawing fire upon himself which caused the enemy to disclose his dispositions. Returning to his company, he armed himself with an automatic rifle and boldly advanced upon the enemy, followed by 2 officers, 9 enlisted men, and a tank. Approaching an enemy machinegun, Lt. Col. Ware shot 2 German riflemen and fired tracers into the emplacement, indicating its position to his tank, which promptly knocked the gun out of action. Lt. Col. Ware turned his attention to a second machinegun, killing 2 of its supporting riflemen and forcing the others to surrender. The tank destroyed the gun. Having expended the ammunition for the automatic rifle, Lt. Col. Ware took up an Ml rifle, killed a German rifleman, and fired upon a third machinegun 50 yards away. His tank silenced the gun. Upon his approach to a fourth machinegun, its supporting riflemen surrendered and his tank disposed of the gun. During this action Lt. Col. Ware's small assault group was fully engaged in attacking enemy positions that were not receiving his direct and personal attention. Five of his 11 men were casualties and Lt. Col. Ware was wounded but refused medical attention until this important hill position was cleared of the enemy and securely occupied by his command.