Life Lessons from D-Day
As I write this, I am sitting with my father-in-law, 3 of my kids and my Irish Setter watching the war classic, ‘The Longest Day’. It is, of course, the retelling of perhaps the most significant day of the 20th Century. For surely out of the 36,525 days in that century, was there any as significant as June 6th, 1944, D-Day?
It was a significant day for that generation and ours for obvious reasons, but is it practical to the average guy? What life lessons from D-Day are there that I can use today?
As I watch this film, I will look out for answers to that question and share them with you below. But first, some preamble.
The Unsung Heroes
While many movies tell the story of great heroes, many of you also have your own stories of unsung heroes; great grandfathers and great grandmothers who were involved somehow.
Perhaps they were one of the 160,000 that hit the beach that day, or one of the 1.5 million or so that followed it up over the next 6 weeks, in the air, on the seas…
P51 Production. Photo: legendsintheirowntime
Or perhaps they helped build some of the 15,000 P51 Mustangs that helped make the German Luftwaffe largely impotent by June …
Or built the 3-foot tall dummies that were paratrooped in to fool the enemy …
Or cooked food or made uniforms or made guns and ammunition for the 3 million military personnel spread across Southern England.
As a New Zealander, my grandfather was in the Pacific at the time, as an armourer ensuring the P40 fighter-bomber’s guns would not jam when engaging the Japanese. But even there his attention was on Europe.
You see my mother was born on D-Day June 6th 1944, and my Grandparents named her Norma – after the Normandy beaches on which the allies landed.
A Legacy That Must Not Die
Before I move on to the life lessons from D-Day, I do want to reflect for a moment on our heroes who are leaving us. I read recently that witnesses to D-Day were dying at 1000 per day.
Whatever the figure is, it won’t be long before there are no more eyewitnesses left to the amazing events on June 6th 1944.
I ask myself, what then?
Over the 70+ years since D-Day, much has been written about the complex events on, before and after D-Day. That will go on, and that is a good thing. We must not forget and we must not let all they fought for go without a fight. Wars come and go, but something will be lost when the last young man and the last young woman who were there on the longest day lay down to sleep for the last time.
To you I can only say, Thank you.
7 Lessons You Can Use Today From D-Day
The lessons from war seem endless and are endlessly studied, and are often applied to other wars or to business. But today I want to know what life lessons I can apply to my own life.
So, here are 7 lessons that struck me as I sit here watching The Longest Day.
1 . Creativity Needs to Be Applied To Benefit From Brute Force
The Allies had overwhelming firepower, planes, tanks and men to deploy in 1944. America’s industrial machine was in full swing and had been churning out incredible numbers of everything the war effort needed.
The shipyards were building merchant ships and destroyers faster than the U-boats could sink them …
The Allied planes outnumbered the German airforce by up to 30-1,
And the Allies would have a massive superiority in troops if they could just get them ashore and secure a beachhead in France.
That is where the great need for creativity came in.
The success of the landing was by no means a given. It required incredible creativity to maximise the chances of success. Some of the creativity that went into it included:
> Appearing to build an army of 250,000 around General George S. Patton at Dover that indicated an invasion at Calais. This included fake barracks, cardboard tanks and loudspeakers transmitting the recorded sounds of vehicles and tanks
> Dropping ‘dummies’ from aircraft with firecrackers to simulate an attack and confuse the enemy
> Amazing new machines to do all sort of difficult jobs, from building docks to unload support ships, to clearing mines, to spanning rivers to laying ‘carpet’ on the beach so other vehicles could travel up the sand. The ‘funnies’ as they were called saved men, machines and time
> The paratroopers had ‘clickers’ to help confused troops identify each other safely in the dark
> PLUTO – Pipeline Under The Ocean was an underwater network of flexible pipes that was built quickly to transport petrol/gasoline from England to France to support the masses of machines
And many more …
Creativity was used by the Allies to deceive the enemy on the location of the invasion, but it was also needed to fix logistics problems that went with the deception. Part of the reason the deception worked so well was that Normandy was a poor choice for an invasion. It had massive tides, no deep water access, it was four times the distance for ships to travel from England compared to Calais, and there was no access from beach to beach which meant it was pretty much 4 separate simultaneous invasions rather than just one. The German’s thought an invasion at Normandy was nuts, and so the defences were much weaker there than elsewhere. But the Allied creativity overcame ‘impossible Normandy’ and made a surprise large-scale invasion possible.
In the end, creativity enabled the overwhelming force to be applied. It was telling and essential.
Sometimes we think that creativity is something we are born with (or not). I don’t consider myself naturally creative, but we need to be careful to overcome such a negative mindset because it will hinder us in the pursuit of our goals.
Creativity is something that we can learn. We can develop it.
It is a skill that builds upon its self as it is applied.
What problems are you facing right now … at home, at work?
Have you taken the time with a whiteboard (or whatever pushes your buttons) to begin to sketch out the problem?
Have you talked it over with others?
I know I give myself less credit than I should in the creative department, and so the first lesson I will take away from the Longest Day is to stop and pause before I apply brute strength (which includes money by the way) to a problem.
Is there a creative way that I can make that brute strength more efficient?
2 Relationships are Vital To Success
The man ultimately responsible for D-Day’s success or failure was U.S. Commander General Dwight Eisenhower. Part of the reason he was chosen was for his ability to maintain relationships with a variety of difficult people.
General Dwight Eisenhower addresses paratroopers on D-Day
The numerous commanders of the allies were notoriously difficult to get along with. Charles De Gaulle, George Patton, Bernard Montgomery … were all prickly men of strong opinions, but Eisenhower managed to develop relationships with all of them well enough to get the job done.
Secondly, the alliance of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin may have been an uneasy one and not without its problems, but it was also essential to success against the Germans. They may not have trusted each other, they may have had secret agendas, but the relationships between them were still such that they could still communicate.
Relationships Survive on Communication
The question I ask myself then is this; do I maintain communication even when I disagree? For example, how much do I shut down communication with my wife because I don’t get my way?
The same applies to work colleagues, our adult kids, our teenagers …
Do we endanger a bigger picture just because we haven’t got what we wanted, or our pride is hurt over a comparatively small issue?
Many times I have thought to myself – is this a battle I can afford to lose if it means I am better placed to hit a bigger target? This is very often a strategy that must be played out with teenagers. I have 7 daughters, and teenage daughters are all difficult at times. They all have their moments – even the best – and so I know I need to be careful or risk making a big problem where I could have avoided one. One example common to most families is the messy room. You might be blessed with Miss Tidy in your house. I have some tidy ones, but with 9 kids, I was guaranteed to get a few that seemed to like searching their floor for stuff. I don’t advocate a constant pigsty, but there is always room for compromise if you can get something more important out of the deal.
Dealing with a teenager may sometimes seem like negotiating with Stalin, but it is important that we make sure our little battles don’t damage our relationship so much that we can’t win the main game.
3 Sometimes Failure Isn’t Our Fault
War can be a cruel lottery.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good your training was, or what your father’s name is, or how much money you have … sometimes the proverbial happens anyway.
Sainte-Mere-Eglise Chuch & ‘John Steel’ manekin. Photo: Tripadvisor
For example, I just watched the scene from Longest Day that I always have trouble watching. It is the scene of the ill-fated F company from the 82nd Airborne Division landing on the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Two planeloads of troops dropped in error directly onto the town square that was full of German soldiers.
John Steele was only one of a handful that survived the slaughter as the men came down into the German guns. His parachute got caught on the steeple, and there is to this day a monument in the form of a manikin hanging from the steeple to mark this event.
But what seemed like a disaster for him, saved his life. Wounded and pretending to be dead, he was eventually captured by the Germans before escaping. Hanging from the church saved him from landing in the churchyard and certain death.
Is Your Life a Hard Luck Story?
Sometimes our lives can be like that too.
Circumstances happen that just seem like rotten luck.
But Christian men know that with a sovereign God who is good, all things work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) … even things that look really bad at the time.
John Steele returned regularly to Sainte-Mere-Eglise until his death in 1969.
I’m sure he was very thankful for his ‘bad luck’ and reflected frequently on his many mates that died on June 6th 1944 that weren’t quite as unlucky as he.
The next time you have ‘bad luck’, make the best of it, be patient, learn the lessons it teaches and perhaps it won’t be quite as bad as it first seemed.
4 We Have to Carry On
In one scene, the icon of ‘tough’ John Wayne plays Lt. Col. Vandervoort leading his company of troops from the 82nd Airborne Division out of planes by parachute into France. Wayne and his men were part of the division that was to take Sainte-Mere-Eglise. But Lt. Col. Vandervoort has two seemingly insurmountable problems.
John Wayne (Lt. Col. Vandervoort) The Longest Day. Photo: Gonemovie.com
First, he lands 5 miles from the target drop zone, and if that isn’t bad enough, he suffers a compound fracture to his ankle. Ouch!
His instructions to the medic are what you’d expect from John Wayne.
“Well, put the boot back on and do it up … tight!”. Using his rifle for a crutch, he carrys on.
All though Wayne is both an American in character and in real life, he epitomises the great British quality made famous in the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
Perhaps there is something you are facing today that is a hardship you could do without?
Perhaps it is an illness, a death of a loved one, the loss of a job or an important contract?
All of these can create immense pressure, but as the men in France on June 6, 1944, showed us, let’s keep calm and carry on regardless of our setbacks.
5. When The Chips are Down, It’s Time to Lead
During D-day, Omaha Beach was a disaster. Some sections, like Dog Green, had casualties so high that 2/3 of the company was wiped out in just 15 minutes after landing on the shore. Many wounded men drowning as the tide rose. The entrenched enemy had the advantage of height, weapons and time. In the first waves, most of the officers and sergeants were killed leaving survivors pinned down, scared and without a leader – completely rudderless.
But on that beach, some leaders stood up. This is from the 29th Infantry Division website:
“Reorganization for assault was spurred by the presence of General Norman D. Cota and the command group of the 116th Regiment [29th Division], who had landed in this area about 0730. Exposed to enemy fire, which wounded Colonel Canham in the wrist, they walked up and down behind the crowded sea wall, urging officers and non-coms to “jar men loose” and get moving.”
Brigadier Norman Cota, played by Robert Mitchum in the movie, rallied his men, some rangers and engineers and using Bangalore torpedos blasted a hole in the concrete sea wall and made an exit off the beach.
This is what the U.S. President said when he awarded General Cota the Distinguished Service Cross:
“At this time [June 6 1944] the beach was under heavy enemy rifle, machine gun, mortar and artillery fire. Numerous casualties had been suffered, the attack was arrested, and disorganization was in process [sic]. With complete disregard for his own safety, General Cota moved up and down the fire-swept beach reorganising units and coordinating their action. Under his leadership, a vigorous attack was launched that successfully overran the enemy positions and cleared the beaches. Brigadier General Cota’s superb leadership, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 29th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.”
When the chips are down, a leader is needed.
Robert Mitchum as General Cota, The Longest Day
When the chips are down at work, do you stand up and lead? For many men, the answer to that is ‘YES’. But what about at home?
The harder place for us to lead is very often at home and with our families.
Our wives and our kids need us to lead and lead well.
When the chips are down with your teenagers, it’s time for you to “jar them loose” and lead, and when the chips are down with your marriage, it is time for you to stand up and give hope and a plan.
When the chips are down, YOU are the man that needs to lead others off the beach you are pinned down on and to the safety of another day.
6 What We Trust In May Not Help Us When We Need It
The Germans had massive fortifications along the French coastline. They had years to build them, and the brilliant German General Rommel said that not one allied soldier would set foot on the beach.
Pointe du Hoc gun emplacements today. Photo: Normandy Tourism
On top of the Pointe du Hoc stood a heavily fortified German gun emplacement. Below the cliffs, almost 300 Army Rangers were tasked with climbing up and taking those gun emplacements to prevent the incoming landing craft and ships being picked off. Only 90 Rangers survived the onslaught, but once they reached and took the bunkers, the remaining German resistance fell.
5 years before, the French relied on their Maginot line to protect them from a German invasion. But once the Germans had gone around the Maginot line, there was an insufficient defence to stop the march into Paris and the surrender of France.
The German’s also trusted in their reinforced concrete bunkers and big guns and the protection of the 100-foot cliffs. But like the Maginot line, when the primary defence failed, there is very little in the way of secondary defence behind them and the American’s made quick inroads.
The lesson for us is that we can very easily put our trust in the wrong things too.
Photo: Normandy Tourism
Whether it is money, our heritage, our job or our reputation, we need to be very sure our hope is not in something that will let us down when we most need it.
In God We Trust
Psalm 121:1-2 says this:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth
And psalm 62:1-2
1For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
2He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
Yes, it is good to have a good reputation, to have money to give us options in life, but these things are all temporary and easily lost.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7).
7 Ultimate Success Takes Time
June the 6th was a very important day, but it was also just one day.
It was both the end of years of toil, planning and sacrifice … as well as just the beginning of finally ridding Europe from the curse of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
D-Day was an overall success. From there the beachheads were established, counter attacks like at the Battle of the Bulge were repelled, and a base to push on through Europe was secured.
For those who heard the news of the success of D-Day, perhaps many thought that the war was all but over. Many of the troops thought that too.
The TIMES reported this in an article from May 20 2014:
“A young French girl who had sought to help the wounded on Sword Beach that D-Day morning saw the war’s end in sight. To her, D-Day was the moment when -liberty was reclaimed for the world. She said, “When I saw the invasion fleet, it was something that you just can’t imagine. It was boats, boats, boats and boats at the end, boats at the back, and the planes coming over. If I had been a German, I would have looked at this, put my arms down, and said, ‘That’s it. Finished!’”
But it would take another 11 months until Hitler was beaten.
I know I too can be in a hurry to get things finished, but it’s not always as easy as that is it?
D-Day and the months that followed showed that we can’t rest on just one victory. The battle goes on until our ultimate goal is accomplished.
Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success. – Leo Tolstoy
Is there anything that you have given up on too soon?
Can you manage just a little more patience, a little more perspiration and persistence?
Ultimate success takes time and nothing worthwhile is easy. It wasn’t in Europe in 1944, and it isn’t today in your life either. However many times you get knocked down, get up just one more and keep going.
The Movie is Finished
Well, the movie has finished now, but the lessons from June 6th 1944 are not.
Here is a recap:
1 Creativity Needs to Be Applied To Benefit From Brute Force
2 Relationships are Vital To All Kinds of Success
3 Sometimes Failure Isn’t Our Fault
4 We Have to Carry On
5 When The Chips are Down, It’s Time to Lead
6 What We Trust In May Not Help Us When We Need It
7 Ultimate Success Takes Time
What have I missed?
Perhaps you could share with me what lessons you see from D-Day. I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment or share this post with those who you think may be encouraged by it.
Cota, Norman Daniel “Dutch”
Originally published on RealMen24/7. Image by Duncan Kidd on Unsplash.