Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent the following message to all D-day combatants on 6 June 1944: “Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely… We will accept nothing less than full victory! Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking”.
That morning, two U.S. Infantry divisions, the 1st and the 29th, landed at Omaha Beach and engaged in the bloodiest fight of World War II’s bloodiest day. Of the 73,000 US Army Soldiers that attempted the shore, 2,500 lost their lives that first day. Soldiers exited landing craft often 100 yards from the shore in chest deep surf, loaded down with the stores necessary for sustained combat, facing withering machine gun fire from prepared German positions, and devastating artillery fire directed by spotters positioned on the initial objectives. Still they came ashore, breeching dense mines fields, barbed wire fences and steel obstacles. It was largely a fight of individuals, as command and control was lost to the chaos at the outset.
One such individual was T/SGT Frank D. Peregory. At age 15, Frank lied about his age to enlist. Landing at Omaha beach, Peregory, on his own initiative, advanced up a hill under intense fire, and worked his way to the crest where he discovered an entrenchment from which machine gun fire was holding up his unit’s advance. He attacked a squad of enemy riflemen with hand grenades and bayonet, killing 8 and forcing 3 to surrender. His single–handed offensive did not stop there. Peregory next single-handedly forced the surrender of 32 more riflemen, captured the machine gunners, and opened the way for his battalion to advance off the beach. T/SGT Peregory was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, having been killed later at the Battle of the Bulge.
Fellow Omaha Beach Medal of Honor recipient, SGT Gino Merli, when interviewed about similarly heroic acts on the beach that day simply noted, “America needed us. What I experienced in the first 20 minutes case hardened me to do anything with my life. I would absolutely do it again!” These two American heroes characterize the “Greatest Generation” that overcame the Depression, defeated fascism, came home humbly and proceeded to build the greatest economy in history. As noted recently by Tom Brokaw, “We have been most fortunate to have lived during the same years as these American heroes, and it’s most regretful to have said farewell to so many. But we may also reflect that even now, more than three-quarters of a century after the “Great Crusade” commenced, there are still men among us to honor.” …approximately 2,400 on this 78th anniversary.
America has been blessed with such heroes when needed at Saratoga and Yorktown, at Gettysburg, at San Juan Hill, the Somme, Omaha Beach, Chosin Reservoir, and Khe Sanh. But can she rely on them today? A cursory review of the profiles of the severely injured post-9-11 combat Veterans we serve at HFOT provides a resounding answer…YES. One can select almost any Veteran story at random. These brave men and women served and sacrificed so much for the country they love and its people. I encourage you to learn more about their stories here.
God Bless America and her Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen.