DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
May 31, 1994

JUNE 6, 1944: OUR FINEST HOUR, AND A LESSON

Eight days before our forces slammed into southern France, Gen. George Patton told an assembly of invasion troops, "There's one great thing you men will be able to say when you go home. You may all thank God ... that when you are sitting around the fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you won't have to say, "I shoveled (excrement) in Louisiana.''

As the nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion with thousands of proud veterans revisiting their baptism by fire, old "Blood and Guts" Patton's words ring even truer. June 6, 1944, remains the finest hour for both America and our warriors who fought there

The feat was a miracle, not only in the guts displayed by our fighting men who accomplished the impossible, or the tactical savvy on the part of their leaders, but also in the massive outpouring from the home front's assembly lines, which provided an abundance of war tools to do the job.

Between the two great wars, our military was allowed to waste away. By the end of 1941, the Army had few tanks and fewer aircraft, most of our Navy's premier fighting ships sat at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and there were no landing craft to carry our Invaders.

But on June 6, the largest sea armada in the world's history, with over 6,000 ships and invasion craft, landed 175,000 soldiers into an inferno on the golden sand of Normandy's Omaha and Utah beaches Two million more warriors waited their turn in England to follow the D-Day heroes, expand the beachhead where the sand had turned red and black from blood and explosions, then drive on to Berlin and put an end to Hitler's "insidious apparatus." Overhead, supporting this great fleet and powerful ground force, flew thousands of aircraft, which dropped paratroopers behind the beaches and struck at bunkers, bridges and Boche reinforcements.

This proud display came with an important lesson: never let our armed forces become hollow and our factories that make our ships, airplanes and tanks become neglected. Sadly, the nation is moving in that direction once again. A common post- Cold War attitude is: "There's no enemy out there. Why waste the money?" Who would have thought on Aug. 2, 1990, another Hitler-like despot, Saddam Hussein, would snatch Kuwait and then perhaps go on to take all of the Middle East?

In 1940, when a similar indifference prevailed, the U.S. Army had fewer men in its ranks than went ashore on D-Day four years later. Not only was our Army hollow, so was our industrial plant, with 25 percent of the work force unemployed. But by 1944, eight million soldiers wore olive drab, and almost five million more dressed in Navy blue and Marine green.

The marvel of it all was how, in just a few years, the armed services were expanded and trained and the rusted plants were churning out the gear that allowed our forces to fight on two fronts at the same time, first whipping the Germans and then the Japanese. After 1942, almost everything our forces used was brand new and made in the United States in 24-hour shifts by Rosie the Riveter and Bob the Battier.

This could never happen again, because almost everything needed for war in the '90s is ultra high-tech. There were more U.S. Navy ships at Normandy than all of the world's 1994 navies combined. Just one of today's aircraft carrier groups costs more than that invasion armada, and today the tanks, aircraft and ships cost billions and take years to produce.

On D-Day, 2,500 Americans were killed, and 30,000 more died during the Normandy campaign, but few who fought on those bitter grounds would have missed it. It was the signal achievement in their lives. This week, if you see an old gentleman with a faraway, misty look in his eyes, give him a salute and a thanks for his sacrifice and remember the words of his invasion commander, Dwight Eisenhower: "In the final choice, a soldier's pack is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner's chains."

Let us never be unprepared for war again.