Operation Overlord Turns 80

by Victoria Routh
Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash.com Photo by Sander Sammy on Unsplash.com

It is one of the many times of year when our family matriarch gathers her children and grandchildren around and has us watch a collection of films relating to World War II; I’ve always believed it’s her way of ensuring that her descendants remain educated. . .and grateful. With the 80-year anniversary of D-Day upon us, she has us focused on the invasion of Normandy, reminding us of the 150,000+ Allied Troops that made Operation Overlord a success, and paying tribute to one of the greatest leaders of all time.

Perhaps one of her favorite films is Ike: Countdown to D-Day, in which the timeline of events is told from the perspective of Ike himself, played by the ever-talented Tom Selleck (sans hair and mustache), as he takes upon himself the sole burden of command and the overwhelming risk of failure. The movie itself is only a little over an hour and a half, but if you’ve been fortunate to watch it, you know that it’s one of those films that sticks with you. Even those of the younger generations (well, some of them) can feel the intensity and emotion of a man saddled with an unthinkable task.

It is usually about half way through the movie that I notice our matriarch taking sneak peeks at those around her, knowing full well she is looking for any signs of awe and appreciation. Occasionally, I will see someone wipe a tear from their eye and I know that our matriarch is pleased to see her strategy has worked. I usually catch her eye and as she smiles at me, she knows that I know her mind, and that I’m thinking what she is thinking; Can you imagine having to make the choices for this unforeseeable undertaking, being responsible as the sole conductor for the whole Theatre of Operations, the sole conductor to take the blame?

I think of Ike’s letter of failure; the letter that, thank God, never came true:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

In the movie, he hands over the letter to General Bedell “Beetle” Smith and instructs him to give it to the press in case Overlord failed, and the narration continues:

“Of course, Overlord did not fail. How could it? With so many fine young men and women from all corners of the earth, all determined to do their best to free a world gone half-mad.”

Even as the movie comes to a close, his modest persona does not go unnoticed. After learning that the casualty rate was far below estimation, his stature remained humble, his character remained true. I leave you with these final words from this cinematic masterpiece, in which the last two sentences should remind us all of the cost.

“Twenty percent is so much better than 70. But the loss of even one of this gallant band is a loss, to all decent humanity everywhere. And besides, if the person killed in action is you or the one you love, then the odds are 100 percent in that case. They knew that, these great crusaders. But they went anyway. Too many of them are now with God. We may never see their like again. We may never see their like again.”