“On D-Day, June 6, 1944, 15,000 young American men jumped from the sky, and 60,000 more stormed in from the sea, to save our civilization from tyranny,” President Trump said in his State of the Union address.
“Here with us tonight are three of those heroes: Private First Class Joseph Reilly, Staff Sergeant Irving Locker, and Sergeant Herman Zeitchik. Gentlemen, we salute you.”
Trump also noted that this coming June 6 will be the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, one of the great turning points of World War II.
His D-Day remarks—and the three veterans—collected a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle and the gallery. The ex-GIs are indeed heroes, representatives of what veteran TV journalist Tom Brokaw aptly described as “the greatest generation” – the generation of my World War II sailor father and soldier father-in-law, both of whom are gone.
Based on the news reports I’ve seen, the media focused more on Trump’s typical fact-fudging, nativism, and border wall fetish than on his D-Day “history lesson.”
But, you can bet our European friends will see Trump’s words as more proof of his who-needs-allies-because America-is-all-that-counts worldview.
Trump’s America-only attitude
“Bottom line: Trump simply doesn’t buy into, or understand, basic concepts such as collective security, burden-sharing, forward defence, and the balance of power,” Simon Tisdall wrote last summer in The Guardian, a British newspaper. “He just doesn’t get it.
“This myopic, isolationist view, consistent with his ‘America First’ outlook, reflects Trump’s hostility to multilateralism in general. He scorns the UN, and has cut its US funding and boycotted its human rights council in Geneva. He repudiates World Trade Organisation rules, adopting unilateral, protectionist tariffs that spark trade wars and threaten European jobs.
“….More gallingly, Trump treats old friends worse than ostensible enemies, personalising political interactions and resorting to bullying, rudeness, and open misogyny.”
But the truth is different
My bottom line: Americans didn’t go it alone on D-Day, or anyplace else in World War II, not by a long shot. Nobody knows that better than the dwindling number of surviving vets, Allied and Axis.
The GIs who took on the Germans in heavily-fortified Normandy arrived by sea and air from Great Britain. (The American airmen who teamed up with the British to bomb Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe throughout the war flew from British bases.)
Just by Googling “D-Day,” Trump would have learned:
- While approximately 57,500 Americans landed on Omaha and Utah beaches, more than 75,215 British and Canadian troops fought their way ashore on Gold, Juno (Canadian), and Sword beaches.
- Around 20,000 Allied paratroopers—13,000 American and the rest British and Canadians—jumped from airplanes or rode gliders into Normandy.
- All told, 4,413 Allied soldiers—including 2,499 Americans—were killed on D-Day.
Though Trump ignored the contributions of other Allied forces on D-Day, American Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, didn’t.
Trump ought to read Ike’s address to his invasion force on June 6, 1944:
“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied [italics mine] Expeditionary Force!” he began. (American, British, Canadian, Dutch, Free French, Norwegian and Polish warships took part in the Normandy invasion. American and British warplanes flew overhead.)
“In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts [italics mine; he meant the Soviets on the Eastern Front and Chinese, Anzac and other troops fighting alongside Americans in the Pacific], you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”
To be sure, Trump was right when he said that “when American soldiers set out beneath the dark skies over the English Channel in the early hours of D-Day, 1944, they were just young men of 18 and 19, hurtling on fragile landing craft toward the most momentous battle in the history of war.” (Not to minimize the significance of D-Day, but there were other momentous battles in history; by far, the biggest ones in World War II were on the Eastern Front.)
British and Canadian troops were in the same age range as their American comrades-in-arms. So were the Australians, Belgians, Free French, Czechoslovakians, Greeks, New Zealanders, Dutch, Norwegian and Poles who fought the Germans in Normandy, too.
Trump said of the Americans, “They did not know if they would survive the hour. They did not know if they would grow old. But they knew that America had to prevail. Their cause was this Nation, and generations yet unborn.”
None of the other Allied soldiers knew if they would live either. All of Ike’s soldiers were risking their lives in a common cause: to free Europe from Nazi slavery.
Trump also recognized one of the old soldiers as among American troops who liberated Dachau. Opened near Munich in 1933, it was Hitler’s first concentration camp.
Other Allied forces liberated other Nazi concentration and extermination camps: the British, Bergen-Belsen; the Soviets, Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Holocaust death camps in which the Nazis murdered six million Jews.
Ike made it plain, but we didn’t listen
The president would also do well to read Eisenhower’s “Victory Order of the Day” of May 8, 1945. Ike declared:
Working and fighting together in a single and indestructible partnership, you have achieved a perfection in unification of air, ground, and naval power that will stand as a model in our time.
The route you have traveled through hundreds of miles is marked by the graves of former comrades. From them has been exacted the ultimate sacrifice; blood of many nations— American, British, Canadian, French, Polish, and others—has helped to gain the victory. Each of the fallen died as a member of the team to which you belong, bound together by a common love of liberty and a refusal to submit to enslavement. No monument of stone, no memorial of whatever magnitude could so well express our respect and veneration for their sacrifice as would perpetuation of the spirit of comradeship in which they died. As we celebrate Victory in Europe let us remind ourselves that our common problems of the immediate and distant future can best be solved in the same conceptions of cooperation and devotion to the cause of human freedom as have made this Expeditionary Force such a mighty engine of righteous destruction.
Let us have no part in the profitless quarrels in which other men will inevitably engage as to what country, what service, won the European War. Every man, every woman, of every nation here represented, has served according to his or her ability, and the efforts of each have contributed to the outcome. This we shall remember – and in doing so we shall be revering such honored graves, and be sending comfort to the loved ones of comrades who could not live to see this day.”
– General Dwight Eisenhower
Sadly, “the profitless quarrels” began with the cold war. We minimized the massive Soviet contribution to Allied victory. (The Soviets suffered 24 million civilian and military deaths compared to 450,700 British and 418,500 American deaths.)
Ferociously anti-communist British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose bust Trump has in the Oval Office, said that the Soviets ripped the guts from the German war machine. The Nazis suffered more than 90 percent of all their losses on the Eastern Front.
The Soviets also downplayed the crucial Anglo-American role in Allied victory, notably round-the-clock strategic bombing and the opening of fronts in France, North Africa, and Italy.
We needed our allies then – and we need them now
Recognizing the bravery and heroism of the other Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen at Normandy in no way detracts from the bravery and heroism of Americans like Reilly, Locker, Zeitchik, and First Lt. Frank Kolb, my old Sunday school teacher.
“No man is an island entire of itself,” warned John Donne, the famous 17th-century English poet. No country is either, a lesson apparently lost on Donald Trump.
The deadliest of the Normandy beaches, “Bloody Omaha” was an American beach. But the words chiseled—in English and French—on the russet-colored stone remind visitors that “ALLIED FORCES” began the liberation of Europe here on June 6, 1944.
Come and stand in memory of men who fought and died.
They gave their lives in Normandy – Remember them with pride.
Soldiers, airmen, sailors, airborne and marines,
Who in civvy life were tailors and men who worked machines.
British and Canadian and men from USA,
Forces from the Commonwealth – they all were there that day.
To Juno, Sword, and Utah, beaches of renown,
Also Gold and Omaha, that’s where the ramps went down.
The battle raged in Normandy; many lives were lost.
The war must end in victory, and this must be the cost.
When my life is over, and I reach the other side,
I’ll meet my friends from Normandy, and shake their hands with pride.