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What Americans don't know about D-Day

The 70th anniversary of D-Day took place Friday. There were many ceremonies in France that day, including the American-French Ceremony at Omaha Beach. President Obama spoke before a huge audience of veterans’ families and approximately 200 American veterans from D-Day. The main ceremony took place, courtesy of the French, on Sword Beach. There were five landing beaches; two were landed on by Americans and the others by the British and Canadians along with freed French and others who were able to contribute to the invasion.

Being there with the press corps on Friday, I found out that there are many things about D-Day that Americans do not know. Our press has talked about the heroism, but there are other important things about D-Day that many of us have not been told about. An underreported D-Day focus was the emphasis on young people.

The president of France, realizing that the younger generations would not understand D-Day, instructed his staff in charge of D-Day to put the emphasis on youth. Posters were made with a photo of a teenage girl with French and English wording saying, “We’re all 70.” Elementary school-aged children escorted the world leaders down the red carpet for the D-Day ceremony. French President Fran├žois Hollandeis concerned that the new generations have no idea of what happened at D-Day, and our present freedoms are the result of the heroes of D-Day. His campaign to involve young people is determined to pass on the history. The brochure given to all the dignitaries and veterans on D-Day has a young girl with a sand pail, and her shadow is not of herself but of a solider.

Much was made about the attendance of President Obama and Russian President Putin. Little fanfare was given to Angela Merkel’s attendance and the friendship and cooperation with Germany. No one discussed what happened after the war with the son of Gen. Rommel. Rommel was forced to commit suicide after he participated in a plot to kill Hitler. He was considered a hero by the German people, and was given a state funeral by Hitler. Little is known about his son, who saw his father minutes before the suicide and became mayor of Stuttgart, Germany. He was able to bridge the hate gap and become friends with the children of former commanders Field Marshal Montgomery of Britain and Gen. George Patton. He reached out to the Allies after the war and was awarded the French Legion of Honor and the Presidential Metal of Freedom. A son of Nazi commander reaching out to the former enemies after the war!

Little is known about medicine used for D-Day and after, but penicillin had only recently been discovered in 1928. The U.S. pharmaceutical industry produced 100 million units in the month proceeding D-Day. That kind of massive effort has gone unrecognized in the current demonizing of American drug companies. Industry also stepped forward.

According to historian and D-Day author Stephan Ambrose, in 1939 the U.S. was manufacturing 800 airplanes a year. By the end of 1943, the U.S. was manufacturing 8,000 planes a month!

In today’s spyware, deception as planned by then Gen. Eisenhower would not be possible. Ambrose detailed it as well in his book on D-Day, saying that the Allies put out fake messages via the radio. The fake messages did not talk about invasion but things like we need 1,800 pairs of ski bindings, as Germans were good at figuring out radio deception. The allies also made wooden “bombers” to sit on the airfields in Scotland and other places. Germany read the messages and moved more troops into places like Norway. The Allies also put dummy landing craft in other landing sights to fool the Germans. Eisenhower put Gen. Patton in command of the fake operations so the Germans would think the best commander was leading the operation in an area the allies were never going to land in then. Eisenhower made sure he got plenty of press so they thought he was in command of the troops.

There are many largely untold stories by the media about D-Day, and one story should have been mentioned by the press and the president: the story of the segregated military and the brave African-American troops who arrived on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. They were segregated but were loyal and brave for their country. Most well known is the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, which served as an anti-aircraft unit. A movie was later made about them and other African-American units called “A Distant Shore.” Stephan Ambrose reports that an additional 1,200 troops went ashore Utah beach on D-Day.

Most of these are stories were not told this D-Day by our American press. They should be. Heroism was the word of the day and knit our country together. We should all be grateful and thankful, as it has provided the freedoms we all enjoy.

Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].