Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
This past Saturday marked the 65th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Operation Overlord was the code name, but most folks know the massive invasion by its military term. We call it D-day.
We honor the amazing men who stormed the beaches at Normandy on that historic day. Utah, Sword, Gold, Juno and Omaha beaches were the names of the invasion sites.
June 6, 1944, was a wicked day of weather. The seas were high and the rain came in hard. The sky only broke occasionally for the Allied air cover to protect the landings. Our boys laid claim to the beachheads inch by bloody inch. The Rangers climbed the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc under heavy, brutal German fire. The sand was stained red with the blood of young American warriors and that of our friends, our allies.
Felix Branham went ashore at the second wave of Omaha Beach as a demolition man. Felix had joined the National Guard in 1938. Branham said of his landing: ``The water was so rough. The guys were getting seasick. I saw water spilling up over the sides of our landing crafts.
"The seawater was splashing in on us from shells bursting and rifles hitting our boat. But I never raised up and looked over to the side of that boat. None of us did.
"When we got off the landing craft, the water was up to my knees. Of course, the tide was rising a foot every 10 minutes and we had to get in quick, because high tide would cover up the obstacles in the water that we used for cover and we would be blown out of the water. They were firing at us from everywhere.
"When we got to the beach, there were Rangers who were separated from their units piling in with us at the same time.
"My team was the first one to go over the sea wall; and I saw some of my friends die.
"In my team of 30 men, we had lost only about five or six of those men. We were lucky. God knows how lucky we were. We went up the hill and then we crossed over Omaha Beach and eventually made it to a little French town.
"The day after D-day, I walked up to the beach, went up and down the beach and saw guys lying on the beach who were dead. They were there with their eyes open, their rifles ready. They were solid in their death.''
These brave men who cracked the Nazi grip on Europe began with the liberation of France 65 years ago. From there they went on to Germany. Nothing like it had ever been done before in history. Over 150,000 Allied soldiers hit the beaches during the assault landings on the 6th of June. By the 4th of July, over 1 million joined the invasion force through Normandy. It was a miraculous feat for 1944.
These young men were from every state and territory of the United States. They were young and hailed from places in the rural farmlands to the big cities. Many had never been but a few miles from home until they went ashore and overseas. They have been called the Greatest Generation.
Growing up, I learned that my dad, a farm boy, served in the great World War II as a soldier in Europe. He was only 18. That's all I knew. Neither he nor my mom, a war bride, ever said anything about my dad's service until they went to a certain place – Normandy.
They went on the 50th anniversary of the D-day landing. When he came back to Texas he started talking about his buddies, those that had lived, and those that had died. He talked about the concentration camps he saw like at Dachau, and how he nearly froze in the Battle of the Bulge, and much, much more.
But he claims to be no hero, even though he is my hero. He says the real heroes are buried right here in this cemetery at Normandy, his fellow warriors who gave up their youth so our country could have our future.
Some today forget the feats of these warriors of World War II. Those World War II troops went to liberate but not to conquer. They fought for a people they didn't even know in a land they had never seen. They freed an entire continent of Europeans from tyranny and wanted absolutely nothing in return.
Some of those Americans that never came home: 9,387, to be exact, still buried in graves in Normandy. Buried on the cliffs, their white crosses and their Stars of David shine and glisten in the morning sunshine over Omaha and Utah beaches.
Others are buried in unmarked graves all over Europe, known only to God. They were great Americans and we should always remember them. We will always be proud, and we will always be free because of them.
And that's just the way it is.