Around 200 persons stormed the Dietrich Theater Sunday afternoon to recall a pivotal moment 70 years earlier during World War II, the D-Day invasion of Europe, which helped turn the tide in favor of the Allies.
However, unlike many of the bewildered, brave souls who carried upwards of 150 pounds of gear along the French beaches of the English Channel on June 6, 1944, the folks at the Dietrich received in air conditioned comfort around two dozen images that captured a turning moment in world history better than any college lecture might.
Sandwiched between images was some riveting discussion, first, about what the Allied world was
up against as its member governments quietly planned the invasion, and then some scenarios of the daunting challenges that soldiers faced either by dropping in as paratroopers or simply storming ashore beaches.
Except McMullen made it clear there was nothing simple in the land mines the Germans had left waiting for the allies as they attempted to reclaim much of Europe.
McMullen said he was in the north of France for the 40th anniversary of D-Day back in 1984 and has returned only to continue to be awed by the sheer magnitude of the whole operation and the courage of its participants.
“Just think of the 129 airfields that were carved out of Britain’s countryside, and you can sense how massive this was just in the planning,” McMullen said.
He noted some historical ironies in the whole operation- that there were decoys to make the Germans think the Allies would land in Calais, France, and that Gen. Erwin Rommel was not initially on scene because he had miscalculated based on weather projections there was no way the invasion would happen the precise day it did.
McMullen charted out by map the Americans’ invasion at Utah and Omaha Beaches, the British at Gold and Sword, and the Canadians at Juno, and how it was all supposed to be synchronized, but didn’t always quite turn out, according to plan.
While German casualties numbered around 1,000 on D-Day, Allied casualties were closer to around 12,000 with more than 4,000 confirmed dead.
McMullen said that the losses were part from being caught up in the crossfire, “but in my opinion most of the men who died were from the attrition of war, accidents, and the like.”
He shared a little of newspaper correspondent Ernie Pyle’s observation a few days out from D-Day, talking about, “Submerged tanks and overturned boats and burned trucks and shell-shattered jeeps and sad little personal belongings were strewn all over these bitter sands.”
He said in a distance it looked like driftwood, but as he got closer discovered “the bodies of soldiers lying in rows covered with blankets, the toes of their shoes sticking up in a line as though on drill. And other bodies, uncollected, still sprawling grotesquely in the sand or half hidden by the high grass beyond the beach.”
He also quoted Gen. Omar Bradley who had command of more than one million American troops from D-Day until the end of World War II.
McMullen noted that Bradley said, “I have returned many times to honour the valiant men who died…every man who set foot on Omaha Beach was a hero.”
And, McMullen closed citing the poetry of A.E. Housman: “Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose, but young men think it is, and we were young.”
The Dennis Strong American Legion Post 457 of Tunkhannock had an honor guard present colors at the start of the program, and retired them at the end.
In his closing prayer, chaplain Walter Knopke said of the men who went ashore 70 years earlier, “Accept our thanksgiving for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families which has purchased for us a free land.”
The American Legion’s Fran Turner presented an American flag and noted to those gathered as if they were being personally told about their lost family member, “A grateful nation honors the boys who stormed the beaches of Omaha and Utah with recognition of their supreme sacrifice.”
Trumpeteer Bud Grohe punctuated the afternoon by closing it out with a solemn rendition of ‘Taps.’