Tuesday, June 06, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 157: D-Day

Yesterday we saw Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos invade the beachhead at Normandy early, clearing the path for the invading Allied forces on this morning, June 6, 1944. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby set up the presence of the Commandos as early as in their first appearance, in a quick one-panel flash-forward in Sgt. Fury #1.

Panel from Sgt. Fury [and His Howling Commandos] #1 (May 1963), script by Stan Lee, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Dick Ayers, colors by Stan Goldberg, letters by Artie Simek

It took until three real-world years later that Marvel presented the tale of Fury and his First Attack Squad, in Sgt. Fury "King-Size Special" — technically, annual #2.

Cover portion of Sgt. Fury [and His Howling Commandos] Annual #2 (May 1963), pencils and inks by Dick Ayers, colors by Stan Goldberg (?), letters by Sam Rosen

The Howlers spend the day and night of June 5 surreptitiously clearing the beach and up to the Nazi's defensive Atlantic Wall of enemy advance guards. Throughout the night, more than 13,000 paratroopers land behind enemy lines to do the same. The Germans are deceived by disinformation leaked to distract them into defending a different area, and Allied planes begin aerial bombing pre-dawn. All this is in preparation for the full scale invasion across the entire stretch of the French coast: American forces landing at code-named Utah and Omaha beaches, British infantry divisions at Gold and Sword Beaches, the Canadian 3rd Infantry at Juno Beach.

Panels from "A Day of Thunder!" in Sgt. Fury [and His Howling Commandos] Annual #2 (August 1966), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Dick Ayers, inks by John Tartaglione, letters by Sam Rosen

Most of the rest of the story is, of course, based on true history but putting the fictional Sgt. Fury at the forefront of the action.

It's a Comic Code Approved product of its time, so Dick Ayres doesn't show us any deaths. But there were over 209,000 Allied casualties, and nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and a further 16,000 deaths amongst the Allied air forces. About half of these men were killed in the first hour of fighting.

Thomas and Ayers allowed the Howlers a moment of sheer triumph chasing down the fleeing German troops. but that's toward's the end of a comic book story. It was far from the end of the war, and it's a long way from Normandy to Berlin.

But at the end of the story, Fury and Company are allowed a moment to reflect on the importance of this day: what it means for the Allies, for the war effort, for the world, for the future. May we always remember that, as well as its terrible cost.

My dad was a Navy man, and he fought in the Pacific Theatre, not in Europe. But he had nothing but the highest regard and admiration for the men who stormed the beaches on D-Day. I wish I could have taken him to see Saving Private Ryan or watched Band of Brothers alongside him; I like to think he was have appreciated them, as of man of that time, as a United States sailor. I salute him and every man and woman fighting for freedom on the side of the Allies on this day, but especially the men of D-Day. To do otherwise is to disrespect their honor; to throw away the freedom and the future they brought us is even more disrespectful.

"There is one great thing that you men will all be able to say after this war is over and you are home once again. You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you won't have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, 'Well, your Granddaddy shoveled shit in Louisiana.'" ― General George S. Patton, Jr. to his troops on June 5, 1944

So no complaining about our work today. Compared to these guys, none of us have had a hard day today.

"We know that progress is not inevitable. But neither was victory upon these beaches. Now, as then, the inner voice tells us to stand up and move forward. Now, as then, free people must choose." — President Bill Clinton

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