I cannot help but think of what it could have been like for those men as they made their way across the English Channel not sure what they were getting into, but many making the realization that they probably would not be coming back.
A fleet of hundreds of Allied ships silently making their way through the glassy water, keeping watch for any U-boats that may hinder their surprise invasion. A fleet of hundreds of planes taking the Airborne divisions to Normandy a head of the invasion force to be dropped behind enemy lines. What it must have been like to not only jump out of an airplane at night, but the terror of uncertainty when the Germany artillery and anti-aircraft started shooting at them. The next morning as the Allies hit the beach, the Germans had the advantage of their many bunkers that had been set up along the coast.
It was no easy battle, but it had to happen. There really wasn’t a ‘Plan B’ for if the invasion failed. After all, the British had tried a French invasion nearly 4 years to the date of D-Day when they had landed at Dunkirk, but ended up being pushed back across the Channel by the Germans.
The success of D-Day did not happen overnight. Sure, the major battle of the initial invasion occurred on June 6, 1944, but Normandy would not be secure for the Allied force until mid July. The significance of the invasion showed that the German Army was no longer superior, and that with the Allies physically in Europe it was only a matter of time before they reached Berlin, capture Hitler, and end the war. Unfortunately it was not as simple as that since Hitler would (according to testimony and reports) take his own life in the bunker in Berlin at the end of April 1945.
So if D-Day is pretty cut and dry in terms of the intention and the ultimate outcome why do we make such a large fuss over it today? Is the carnage? The loss of life? Or is it what it represented for the rest of the world? The rest of the world was finally able to get a stronghold on the (up until that point) relatively undefeated German Army.
Sure, the invasion was one of (if not *the*) largest invasion force in history at over one million men. In comparison the Germans had less then 400,000 in Normandy by the end of July 1944. In my humble historian opinion, we remember D-Day because of the men who fought on both sides.
When it comes down to it, isn’t that what war is about? Two sides fighting for what they believe in or, what they are told they are supposed to believe in? World domination was on the line as the Allied invasion force climbed aboard the ships that would take them into battle. Both sides had men who were practically boys fighting, losing their innocence forever. Survivors of D-Day still hear fallen comrades cry out “Mama” as they lay in the sand waiting for a medic to fix them.
Yes, the Allies would go on to “win” the battle over Normandy, but was there really a winner? By the end of the fighting on June 6th, nearly 4,500 Allied men were dead compared to the Germans whose death estimates range between 4,000-9,000 (D-Day Museum).
Where is the connection to Camp Algona? I cannot say for sure. It is possible that some of the German POWs that would make their way through the Algona system fought in Normandy during the summer of 1944, but without their military records it is hard to say. The connection to Kossuth County is a little stronger. Over 2,000 men and women from Kossuth participated in World War II in various branches of the military. Many participated in the Normandy Invasion, but the ones that stick out the most in my mind are the ones that did not make it home.
Paging through ‘Pass in Review’, the book put together in remembrance of the 113 from Kossuth who died during the war, I could not help but notice how many of those died in France during the campaign.
*Cpl. Urban Lentsch
*Sgt. James T. McMahaon
*Pfc. Edmund Bell
*Pvt. Albin Nelson
*1st Lt. Harry Montgomery
*Pfc. Harold Hammerstrom
*Pfc. Carl Knudsen
*Sgt. Arthur Ruhnke
Many others from Kossuth participated in D-Day and the Normandy Invasion. Today is not only about remembering the events of that fateful day that changed the course of the war, but also the men who bravely fought their way onto the beaches.
To those that fell and to those that made it all the way to Germany, we must take a minute and think of them and their sacrifice.