By Calvin Palmer
With the 65th anniversary of D-Day fast approaching, for those who need reminding it takes place on June 6, the foundation that runs the National D-Day Memorial is on the brink of financial ruin.
The poor economy is partly to blame. Each passing year also sees the surviving members of the Greatest Generation, the men and women whose sacrifices gave us the freedoms we all enjoy today and who put fanatical extremism to the sword, take note Rush Limbaugh, get fewer in number. The memorial is also handicapped by its remote location.
Foundation President William McIntosh believes the only hope for long-term survival is to be taken over by the National Park Service or by a college or university.
Bedford, Virginia, was chosen for the site of the memorial because the community, 115 miles west of Richmond, suffered among the nation’s highest per-capita losses on D-Day.
That is a noble sentiment but hardly the correct choice in economic terms. The nearest major city is 200 miles away.
Perhaps the foundation needs to look further afield to avoid going under and at the same time embrace the true history of D-Day.
Contrary to the popular belief widely promoted by flawed historian Stephen Ambrose and continued by films such as Saving of Private Ryan, D-Day was not exclusively an American operation.
It was a joint effort by the United States, Britain and Canada, with a few Free French thrown in to massage Gallic pride.
The Supreme Commander was Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man noted for his organizational abilities rather than battlefield prowess.
Command of the Allied ground forces was entrusted to the British general Bernard Montgomery. Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, was his plan.
Largely due to films such as Patton and Stephen Ambrose’s fictional account of D-Day, Montgomery is a much maligned figure in the United States and one who receives little credit for the success achieved by the Allied forces.
As far as most Americans are concerned, the invasion of Normandy only succeeded thanks to Gen George Patton. What is often overlooked is that if the British and Canadian forces had not tied down the bulk of the German Army guarding the quickest route to Paris, Patton’s breakthrough would never have taken place or achieved the success it did.
Montgomery has been unfairly portrayed as being over cautious. As a soldier who experienced the trench warfare of the First World War, Montgomery was appalled by the needless waste of human life and made a promise to himself that he would never manage troops in such a reckless and uncaring way. Not so Patton whose ego fed off the blood of thousands of GIs.
Alistair Horne in his book, The Lonely Leader: Monty 1944-1945, states:
“Nevertheless, it (Overlord) was basically Monty’s plan – persisted with in the face of so much carping criticism at SHAEF and in the Allied press – which brought about the victory in Normandy, which liberated Paris and Brussels, and brought the Allied armies to the frontier of Germany. Without the unglamorous work of the Picador – those grinding battles fought by Monty’s Anglo Canadians around bloody Caen – Patton would never have made his triumphant, almost painless, scamper across France. What comes through repeatedly, in Monty’s record in Normandy is the sheer professionalism of the soldier, which saved his troops – as he had so often promised them – from unnecessary losses. By comparison the Americans, steeped in a belief of limitless reserves of manpower (which the Ardennes proved they did not possess), sometimes seemed almost profligate with their casualties – particularly on the tragic, and all too frequent occasions when airmen bombed their own troops, or in Patton’s costly and pointless attacks on fortress Metz.”
As McIntosh looks ahead, he sees a bleak future for the National D-Day Memorial.
He said layoffs and reduced hours will be necessary in a few weeks, but even those measures will not be enough to keep the gates open for long.
“It makes me sad for America that we can’t do a bit better than this,” he said.
But history has shown that America gives of its very best when accompanied by its traditional allies.
Perhaps in order for the D-Day Memorial to survive, the foundation should look to those former comrades in arms. Just as cooperation with Britain and Canada led to victory in western Europe against Nazi Germany, it more than likely could see off the ravages of the current economic recession.
And with the British and Canadians on board, the true and accurate story of D-Day would be preserved for future generations of Americans.
It is somewhat ironic that Holocaust museums and memorials thrive across the United States and yet a memorial to the military operation that eventually brought the Holocaust to an end should now find itself in such dire straits.
[Based on a report by newsday.com.]