Six Facts About D-Day You Never Learned in School
What most Americans these days know about D-Day comes from the movies "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) and "Band of Brothers" (2001), and that's pretty good! It's infinitely better than not knowing anything at all about this pivotal Allied invasion of World War II.
However, to enhance your knowledge of this important battle whose anniversary is June 6, here are a few more interesting facts you probably didn't learn in school.
1. Teddy Roosevelt Jr. fought on D-Day.
You remember the original Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, (1898) right? He earned the Medal of Honor for his incredible bravery that day. Well, his son Ted Jr. was no less brave.
Teddy Jr. fought in World War I at Soissons and was wounded in action. Later, in World War II, he was a brigadier general and led troops in North Africa and Italy. For the D-Day invasion, the 56-year-old soldier (the oldest Allied soldier on D-Day, by the way) begged to lead the men out of his landing craft and be the first on shore. He was given that honor, and led his men onto Utah Beach. (While they were heading for shore he led his men in singing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Onward, Christian Soldiers.")
They landed about a mile off course and not under as much direct fire as the Americans on Omaha Beach, but they were receiving fire nevertheless and taking casualties. (His son, Captain Quentin Roosevelt, was fighting on Omaha Beach when he landed on Utah.) The arthritic general, with cane in one hand and pistol in the other, personally led his troops off the beach, flanking and attacking the Germans.
Henry Fonda portrayed General Roosevelt in the classic film "The Longest Day":
Later, when General Omar Bradley was asked what was the most courageous thing he saw in World War II, he said, "Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach." Here is the real General Roosevelt just days after D Day:
Tragically, one month later, he died from a heart attack. He is buried in a U.S. military cemetery next to his brother, who was killed in World War I.
For his actions on D-Day, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, making him and his dad the second father-son Medal of Honor "team" in our history (General Douglas MacArthur and his dad, General Arthur MacArthur, are the other father-son team).
2. The Nazis used non-German draftees to fight in Normandy.
The Germans had some very fine troops at Normandy (most notably the 352nd Infantry Division at Omaha Beach). However, the Allies also captured Koreans, Poles, Czechs, Russians, Mongolians, Georgians, and Kazakhs in German uniforms. Here is a good little video telling the true story of the Korean man, Yang Kyoungjong, who (along with several other Koreans) was captured by American paratroopers that day: