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Today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the commencement of the Allied invasion of continental Europe. Within a year, Hitler was dead and the Nazi reign of terror over.
President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 speech at Normandy marked the 40th anniversary of the invasion. Reagan used the opportunity not only to honor the allied soldiers who fought their way ashore, but also to strengthen NATO’s resolve in the face of threatened Soviet nuclear missile deployments to Eastern Europe. I introduced this speech to my high school rhetoric and debate students as one of the great presidential speeches of the 20th century.
My father, George Thomas Wingard, Jr., fought in Europe later in the war. He was at the Battle of the Bulge, which began on December 16, 1944, his 21st birthday. My cousin, George King, son of Clinton and Magnolia Wingard King, was killed during the D-Day invasion. Their courage and the courage of all America’s military forces should be remembered.
Halsey’s Typhoon (Robert Drury and Tom Clavin) is the gripping story of Task Force 38, and its desperate struggle to survive a devastating typhoon on December 17-18, 1944. By the end of the storm, three destroyers rested on the ocean floor and nearly 800 sailors lost their lives, almost as many American deaths as in the Battles of Midway and Coral Sea combined.
Under the leadership of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, TF 38 was operating in waters 300 miles east of the Philippines. Charged with keeping Japanese planes based on Luzon out of the air during MacArthur’s Philippine campaign, Hasley chose to keep his fleet in station even as the surprise storm intensified. A number of the ships, unable to refuel, found themselves perilously unstable. A few exhausted their fuel supplies, leaving them crippled, helpless before the merciless winds and raging seas.
Particularly inspiring is the story of Lt. Commander Henry Lee Plage and the crew of the destroyer escort Tabberer. In spite of severe damage to their own ship and orders to leave the area, they remained and over the course of 55 hours plucked 51 sailors from the sea. Maneuvering the destroyer in turbulent waters alongside so many survivors, without killing them or their rescue swimmers, was a feat of extraordinary seamanship.
As one expects in a military history, Halsey’s Typhoon is the account of leaders making life and death judgments quickly and under extraordinary pressure. These are not my experiences, and I am moved by men struggling to do their duty in unimaginably harsh conditions.
This week marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the decisive turning point in the Pacific war. Fought June 4-6, 1942, America sank four Japanese aircraft carriers, a military setback from which Japan never recovered.
Ian Toll observes:
In the American view, Midway eliminated the risk of a Japanese attack on Hawaii or the west coast of North America. As important, it relieved political pressure on FDR to transfer a greater share of forces to the Pacific, freeing him to emphasize his great priority, which was to keep the Soviet Union in the war against Germany. In that sense, the Battle of Midway ratified and confirmed the vital ‘Europe-first’ strategy. For that reason, it ranks as one of the most essential events of the Second World War, bearing not only on the conflict in Pacific but on the fate of Nazi Germany. (Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942,479).
This first photo below shows the American carrier Yorktown as it is hit by a Japanese aerial torpedo. The second shows the carrier heavily damaged and listing badly. She was eventually lost.
American heroism at Midway should be remembered.
My interest in America’s Pacific War (1941-1945) began in elementary school. One of our readers included the story of Jimmy Doolittle’s Tokyo Raid. I was captivated by the stunning story of 16 Army B-25 Mitchells that were outfitted for this unique objective and flown by specially trained crews. Launched from an American aircraft carrier that had slipped to within several hundred miles of Japan’s coast, the odds of survival were slim.
Theirs was a no-return mission. After dropping their bombs, the crews headed for destinations in China and Russia, harrowing escape attempts that led to freedom for some, and prison, torture, and death for others.
Doolittle’s Raid came less than six months after Pearl Harbor. The enemy was caught off guard and given a foretaste of the nightmare to come. American morale, which was at a low point, soared.
One of the captured flyers, Jacob DeShazer, obtained a Bible while in prison and through his reading was converted to the Christian faith. At the war’s end, he was released and came back to America, only to return to Japan to serve as a missionary for three decades. Mitsuo Fuchida, the flight leader who led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was converted to Christianity under DeShazer’s ministry.
Ian W. Toll’s Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 is a compelling account of the story of Dolittle’s Raiders and the many other momentous events of the war’s opening months. He sifts through the personal experiences of President Roosevelt and his top military advisors, as well as the sailors, airman, soldiers and Marines who defended our nation and who fought desperately just to stay alive. Thoughtful consideration is given to the war as experienced by Japan’s leaders and people.
This first of three volumes covers the war from Pearl Harbor to Midway.
About the Battle of Midway – fought June 4-6, 1942 – and America’s sinking of four Japanese aircraft carriers, a military setback from which Japan never recovered, Toll observes:
In the American view, Midway eliminated the risk of a Japanese attack on Hawaii or the west coast of North America. As important, it relieved political pressure on FDR to transfer a greater share of forces to the Pacific, freeing him to emphasize his great priority, which was to keep the Soviet Union in the war against Germany. In that sense, the Battle of Midway ratified and confirmed the vital ‘Europe-first’ strategy. For that reason, it ranks as one of the most essential events of the Second World War, bearing not only on the conflict in Pacific but on the fate of Nazi Germany. (479)
Seventy-five years ago today Japanese forces attacked American military installations in Hawaii. A day later President Franklin Roosevelt requested Congress for a declaration of war with Japan.
Listen his speech here. It concludes:
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces- with the unbounding determination of our people- we will gain the inevitable triumph- so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
Winston Churchill was born November 30, 1874. He tops most lists of the twentieth century’s greatest leaders, the consummate man of word and action. From May 1940 to America’s December 1941 entry into World War II, Churchill’s leadership rallied Britain against Nazi domination. Of all the countries of northern Europe, only Britain stood between Hitler and freedom.
It’s hard to imagine England resisting Germany’s onslaught without Churchill. British resistance was not a given. Other options were available, and many favored a negotiated peace. For readers wanting to become familiar with Churchill’s life but unable to invest the time it takes to read a lengthy biography, I recommend Winston Churchill: A Life by the late military historian John Keegan. This brief biography comes in at under 200 pages, but is full of insights into Churchill’s life and character. His was a life that combined physical and moral courage with leadership and oratorical gifts that persuaded a nation to fight.
“Ed Murrow [an American broadcast journalist] reflected that one of Churchill’s greatest achievements as wartime prime minister was to have ‘mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.’ . . .
“Churchill’s words did not only touch his people’s hearts and move the emotions of their future American allies; they also set the moral climate of the war. Hitler, a mob orator, spoke little after 1939. When he did so, it was to utter threats and insults, glorifying aggression, deriding his enemies. Churchill, by contrast, avoided threats, condemned few (though Mussolini, for some reason always provoked him to contempt). Instead he appealed to a commonality and nobility of sentiment that took liberty as its ideal and humanity as its spirit. He always spoke, moreover, as if the ideal of liberty, though particularly incarnate in wartime Britain, was shared by all who did not actively oppose it, in this way reaching out to embrace as allies, actual or potential, all those not on Hitler’s side. Thus, in a broadcast on June 12, 1941, he sent out a
‘message . . . to all the States or nations bound or free, to all the men in all the lands who care for freedom’s cause, to our allies and well-wishers in Europe to our American friends and helpers drawing ever closer in their might across the ocean: this is the message – Lift up your hearts. All will come right. Out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind.’
“Churchill’s message triumphed. It was perhaps the greatest of all his achievements. In 1940 his words captured the hearts of his people. In 1941, and in the years that followed, his words drowned out the drumbeat of totalitarianism that had dominated the airwaves of the dictator years, revived belief in democracy among the downtrodden, inspired a new patriotism in the defeated, created a new confidence, and transmitted a promise of victory that was believed. Morally, Churchill set the agenda of the Second World War.” (144-145)
Click here to listen to Churchill’s speeches. His poise, confidence, realism, and hope, along with an unsurpassed facility with the English language, make these audio recording one of history’s valuable treasures.
Still clearing materials off an old blog and here’s a powerful movie I watched several years ago.
Sophie Scholl – The Final Days is a remarkable film about a courageous young Christian in Hitler’s Germany. She actively and publicly opposed the Nazi war machine. In 1943, she, along with two other members of the White Rose resistance group, were arrested by the Gestapo, tried, and beheaded. Sophie was 21.
This movie (in German with English subtitles) is a testimony to Christian faith, humble prayer, physical and moral courage, and family devotion.
The film’s director is an atheist. Nevertheless, it is one of the finest Christian films I’ve seen, a tribute to the work of movie makers who are faithful to a compelling story and tell it well.
The Battle of Stalingrad is mentioned several times in the movie, and it would be helpful to refresh your memory about this pivotal battle before viewing.