This and That

D-Day – “Thank God for the United States Navy!”

NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER PICTURE

“Thank God for the United States Navy!”

That quote comes from a very grateful Major General Leonard Gerow, commander of V (5th) Corps, which consisted of the 1st (Big Red One) and 29th infantry divisions that landed on Omaha Beach.

Much has been written about Operation Overlord, the invasion of mainland Europe on D-Day, June 6th,1944, but little has been said about the Multinational Naval involvement (Operation Neptune) and the destroyers that may have saved the invasion.

Omaha Beach was one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, during World War II. It was an open beach, some 8,000 yards wide and 400 or more yards deep, and the most heavily defended portion of the Normandy Coast. Unfortunately, landing here was necessary to link the British landing to the east at Gold Beach with the Americans landing to the west at Utah Beach.

Very little went as planned during the landing at Omaha Beach. Difficulties in navigation caused the majority of landing craft to miss their targets throughout the day. The defenses were unexpectedly strong and inflicted heavy casualties on the landing U.S. troops. Under heavy fire, the engineers struggled to clear the beach obstacles, and later landings had to bunch up around the few channels that were cleared. Weakened by the casualties taken just in landing, the surviving assault troops could not clear the heavily defended exits to get off the beach.

Half an hour before the landing, Naval ships sitting 12 miles offshore started shelling the German installations, but the 100 plus American bombers sent in to soften up the area for the landing were hampered by fog. Instead of bombing the German installations overlooking the beach, they bombed further inland, leaving the German beach installations fairly intact.

General Omar Bradley, the commander of the ground forces, sensing the possibility of defeat on Omaha Beach, directed naval destroyers to sail to a point a thousand or less yards off the beach and shell German installations with their 5-inch guns.

This tactic was not new having once before been used during a landing on a Japanese-held island in the Pacific. The landing craft carrying the Marines were grounded on a reef several hundred yards offshore making them “sitting ducks” for Japanese guns. Moving into the shallows, destroyers protected the Marines while they made their way to the beach.

As the destroyers cruised back and forth in the shallows just off Omaha Beach, they took fire from the German artillery, mortars and small arms. They were successful in not only destroying many German emplacements, but also distracting the Germans, thereby reducing the amount of fire the troops were getting, allowing them to move forward off the open beach.

This is why, when General Gerow went ashore to set up the V Corps headquarters, his first message to General Bradley was: “Thank God for the United States Navy!”

Memorial Day

The first commemorative Memorial Day events weren’t held in the United States until the late 19th century, however the practice of honoring those who have fallen in battle dates back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans held annual days of remembrance for loved ones (including soldiers) each year, festooning their graves with flowers and holding public festivals and feasts in their honor.

At the end of the Civil War, the country was still divided and many people tried to think of a way to bring it back together. In May 1868, General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, came up with an idea that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers killed in the recently ended Civil War. On Decoration Day, as Logan dubbed it, Americans should lay flowers and decorate the graves of the war dead on both sides “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

American’s embraced the notion of “Decoration Day” immediately and by By 1890, every former state of the Union had adopted it as an official holiday. But for more than 50 years, the holiday was used to commemorate those killed just in the Civil War. It wasn’t until America’s entry into World War I that the tradition was expanded to include those killed in all wars, and Memorial Day was not officially recognized nationwide until the 1970s, with America deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War.

Although the term Memorial Day was used beginning in the 1880s, the holiday was officially known as Decoration Day for more than a century, when it was changed by federal law. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 finally went into effect, moving Memorial Day from its traditional observance on May 30 (regardless of the day of the week), to a set day—the last Monday in May.

Despite the increasing celebration of the holiday as a summer rite of passage, there are some formal rituals still on the books: The American flag should be hung at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the staff. And since 2000, when the U.S. Congress passed legislation, all Americans are encouraged to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.

Mother’s Day

Anna Maria Jarvis

Mother’s Day is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. It is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly in the months of March or May. It complements similar celebrations honoring family members, such as Father’s Day, Siblings Day, and Grandparents Day.

In 1872 Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), American poet, author, social activist, abolitionist and advocate for women’s suffrage. called for women to join in support of disarmament and asked for 2 June 1872, to be established as a “Mother’s Day for Peace.” Her 1870 “Appeal to womanhood throughout the world” is sometimes referred to as Mother’s Day Proclamation. But Howe’s day was not for honouring mothers but for organizing pacifist mothers against war. In the 1880s and 1890s there were several further attempts to establish an American “Mother’s Day,” but these did not succeed beyond the local level.

It was not Howe. but Anna Maria Jarvis (1864-1948) who celebrated the first Mothers Day in 1908, when she held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Three years previously she hadstarted her campaign to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday in the United States as a result the death of her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis. Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War, and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers because she believed a mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”.

In 1908, a proposal to make Mother’s Day an official holiday, was rejected by Congress, but within three years Anna Jarvis had convinced all U. S. states to observe the holiday. In 1914, President Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.

Although Jarvis was successful in founding Mother’s Day, she became resentful of the commercialization of the holiday. By the early 1920s, Hallmark Cards and other companies had started selling Mother’s Day cards. Jarvis believed that the companies had misinterpreted and exploited the idea of Mother’s Day, and that the emphasis of the holiday was on sentiment, not profit. As a result, she organized boycotts of Mother’s Day, and threatened to issue lawsuits against the companies involved. Jarvis argued that people should appreciate and honor their mothers through handwritten letters expressing their love and gratitude, instead of buying gifts and pre-made cards. Jarvis protested at a candy makers’ convention in Philadelphia in 1923, and at a meeting of American War Mothers in 1925. By this time, carnations had become associated with Mother’s Day, and the selling of carnations by the American War Mothers to raise money angered Jarvis, who was arrested for disturbing the peace.

In the United States, Mother’s Day remains one of the biggest days for sales of flowers, greeting cards, and the like; Mother’s Day is also the biggest holiday for long-distance telephone calls. Moreover, churchgoing is also popular on Mother’s Day, yielding the highest church attendance after Christmas Eve and Easter. Many worshipers celebrate the day with carnations, colored if the mother is living and white if she is dead.

May Day

Many of you may have celebrated the 1st of May or May Day in school, by making little baskets that you filled with flowers or candy and hung on neighbor’s doors, then rang the doorbell and left (I know, some of you put other things on front porches, rang the doorbell and left, but that is best left for a future story).

Perhaps you even celebrated May Day by dancing around a Maypole holding ribbons which intertwined as you danced. Interestingly enough, some women’s colleges on the east coast of the United States still do this every year.

The celebration of May Day has an ancient origin starting with Floralia, the Festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, around the 1st of May In the second century A.D. Ovid wrote that hares and goats were released as part of the festivities. Persius added that crowds were pelted with vetches, beans and lupins.

May Day is still widely celebrated in Europe. In the United States, May Day was first celebrated by early European settlers and is still celebrated in some areas with parades, dances or festivals. In 1927, May Day became Lei Day in Hawaii, as a day to celebrate island culture in general, and the culture of native Hawaiians in particular.

The public schools in Pasadena, California, where I grew up, apparently stopped celebrating May Day in the late 1940’s. This was partly due to the fact it had become the day for communist countries, especially the USSR, to “ rattle their swords” with a large exhibition of soldiers, weapons and such.This was actually nothing new since in the late 19th century, May Day was chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day by the Socialists and Communists to commemorate the Haymarket affair in Chicago.

You are encouraged to enjoy May Day the best you can, but please no releasing hares or goats indoors and no pelting each other with vetches, beans or lupines.