Jesse W. Rigby is a Shareholder at Clark Partington and a U. S. Marine Corps, Retired Lieutenant Colonel (1968 – 1988). Mr. Rigby saw active combat with the Marines in Vietnam and shares his reflections about D-Day with us:
Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Battle of Normandy and a major turning point in World War II. This is the day that the forces of the United States, Canada, Britain and free France launched a combined naval, air and land assault on Nazi-occupied France with a force of over 150,000 soldiers, 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft. 6,603 souls were lost on D-Day, with thousands more wounded. The landings on the Normandy beaches were the start of a long campaign to liberate northwest Europe from German occupation. Ultimately, D-Day marked the beginning of the end of the war against Germany. The invasion is considered one of history’s most significant military attacks.
So far as I know, I am one of the very few members of the firm who has seen active combat. At the risk of being accused of being maudlin, I’ll offer a few personal comments with the hope that we will not forget what our fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles and grandparents did in June 1944, and more importantly what the direct participants may have felt that day. None of the participants of the D-Day invasion will be here for the 100th anniversary, and I dare say neither will I, so if I am going to say anything, now is the time.
First, wearing full combat gear, I have climbed down cargo nets (fortunately only in training) from the deck of a WW II era troop ship into a landing craft bouncing on the waves buffeting the troop ship–not a pleasant experience. The landing craft in 1968 was a successor to the “Higgins” boats of WW II, but essentially the same type of craft you see on D-Day film. I am confident that the men in those boats on D-Day were not only scared, but embarrassed by their seasickness. I have the benefit of just a glimpse of what the feeling was like going ashore on those boats because I made combat landings from ships off Vietnam, with Marines packed shoulder to shoulder. I just wanted the ride to the beach to end and survive seasickness. Fortunately, I knew that while there might be opposition, the beach in Vietnam was not fortified. No soldier or Marine has faced landing on a fortified beach like Normandy since WW II.
Second, I know most of the infantrymen who landed on the Normandy beaches in the first waves were in their late teens and early 20s. At age 22 in Vietnam, and the second oldest in my platoon of 45 Marines, I thought I was invincible (most of the time). I dare say my younger Marines held the same false opinion of their own longevity. I have no reason to believe the young men on June 6, 1944 thought any differently.
Third, many of the young men in those boats probably wrote their finals letters home to their loved ones shortly before the invasion, even though censorship prevented any letters from being delivered until much later. Invincible yes, but just in case I’ll write my final letter to someone I love. The letter would not have expressed my fear. Been there—done that when knowing that my infantry company was going to wade across 500 meters of open, flooded rice paddies the next day to get to a heavily tunneled mountain complex, which had been bombed for several days while we watched and waited. Talk about building up to a climax. Fortunately, much ado about nothing best described my next day, but the trepidation was real and is seared in my memory. I simply cannot fathom the pressure on men in those units leading up to D-Day.
Fourth, I know they were very, very scared coming ashore in those boats, but almost none would show that fear openly–better to be maimed or killed than to suffer the humiliation of giving into your fear and letting down your comrades.
Fifth, I know the young men who landed on those beaches on June 6 simply did what they had to do. They did not want, or need, to be heroes. They just needed to do their job. They needed to simply believe in the mission, or if not the mission, they needed to believe in, trust, respect, and honestly care for those who were with them that day. They could not, and would not, let down their friends. A free and open society encourages this personal loyalty. A dictator does not.
Sixth, I know that on June 6, and in the days leading up to that day, it did not matter whether someone’s family had wealth, whether your buddy was educated or not, or where he came from. Now, admittedly, it was not until the Vietnam era when our armed forces were truly integrated that a young man from rural, completely segregated northwest Escambia County learned that in combat the color of your skin does not matter, your religion does not matter, and somewhat later that one’s sexual preference does not matter. Everyone’s blood is the same color. Everyone experiences the same emotions and fears. In combat, all are part of the band of brothers. That is how we should live each day.
Finally, I know that those who landed on Normandy, on Guadacanal, on Tarawa and on Iwo Jima, and who fought in Italy, across North Africa, in New Guinea and in the Philippines have been described as our greatest generation. They may be our “greatest generation” since World War I, but I hope, I believe, that our greatest generation is yet to come. I hope that my grandkids and their grandkids are not tested like our predecessors in WW II, but if they have to be tested in that manner I know those young men and women can become our greatest generation.
So let’s remember June 6, 1944 and all the other horrendous battles of WW II and since. Let us say thank you to those men and women of that era who are still with us.
Let us elect leaders who will have the good sense and wisdom to find some answer rather than war. However, if there truly is no other choice, I believe and trust that the next generation will stand up to be counted, just as our countrymen did in the 1940s.
About Clark Partington:
Clark Partington constantly surveys the ever-changing legal landscape to provide up-to-date and responsive counsel to our clients. Clark Partington is the largest business focused firm in the Florida panhandle with offices in Pensacola, Destin, Grayton Beach & Tallahassee. The firm also maintains a presence in South Alabama with an Orange Beach office. Since 1976 Clark Partington has grown to over forty lawyers and has served the people and businesses of Florida through an innovative and collaborative approach to practicing law. Our lawyers are consistently recognized for their service to the profession and excellence in the courtroom. More information about the firm’s practice, its attorneys, and recognitions may be found at www.clarkpartington.com.