tv Washington Journal Author Alex Kershaw on D- Day 75th Anniversary CSPAN August 20, 2019 11:31am-12:33pm EDT
and special event coverage about our nation's history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on c-span3. american history tv products are available at the new c-span online store. go to c-spanstore.org to see what's new for american history tv and check out all of the c-span products. the house will be in order. >> for 40 years, c-span has been providing unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events from washington, d.c., and around the country so you can make up your own mind created by cable in 1979. c-span is brought to you by your local cable or satellite he assu provider. c-span, your unfiltered view of government.
>> soldiers, sailors and airmen of the allied expeditionary force. you are about to cru embark upoe great u crusade toward which we have striven these many months.o the eyes of the world are upon you. the hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march r with you.ring a in company with our brave allies and brothers in arms on other o fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the german war machine, the elimination of nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of europe and security for ourselves in a free world. your task will not be an easy i, one.e.batt your enemyle is well trained, wl equipped and battle hardened.t s he will fight savagely. but this is the year, 1944, much has happened since the nazi triumphs of 1940-'41. the united nations have le, ma inflicted upon the germans great defeats in open battle, of
man-to-man. our airs offensivese hasri ser reduced their strength inn the r air and their capacity to wage h war on theel ground. our homefronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war. and placed at our disposal greah reserves of trained fighting men. o the tide hasf turned. the free men of the world are i marching together to victory.vot i have full confidence in your a coverage, devotiontt to duty anv skill in battle. we will accept nothing less than full victory. good luck, and let us all beseech the blessing of almighty god upon this great and noble undertaking. >> this morning on "washington journal" and american history tv, we are at the national d-day memorial in bedford, virginia,
joined by alex kershaw, the author of nine books including his latest "the first way, the d-day warriors who led the victory in world war ii." alex kershaw, thank you for joining us. what's the significance of you being there in bedford and the memorial you're sitting near? >> this is the one place in america that gave more to me as a european. i'm 53 years old. and i've spent 53 years in a europe that's been at peace and has enjoyed enormous prosperity and unity. and this one community here, bedford, virginia, gave more lives, sacrificed more than anywhere else in america. june 6th, 1944, 19 guys from this community of 3,000 in 1944, died in the first wave on omaha beach. so per capita, bedford, ay, an virginia, gave more than any other allied community on d-day, and that's why the national
d-day memorial is here. and i'm very happy to be sitting right in front of it. >> it's interesting. i've always heard that bedford gave more than any other american town but you said more than any other allied community. >> yes, that's what the national d-day memorial proclaims, and that's true, yeah. actually on d-day, company "a" from the 116th infantry regiment, a national guard unit, they joined the national guard in the 1930s, they were weekend warriors. they never envisioned in 1937-'38 that by 1944 they'd be in the very first wave in the most critical assault in u.s. history. so out of company "a," 180 guys that landed on omaha beach and 102 of them, we believe, were killed in about a half an hour. of the 102, 19 were killed from bed ford, virginia, but 34 guys still in company "a" on d-day from this company here who
fought on june 6th, 1944. >> your book focuses on the individual stories, the personal stories of that first wave of soldiers, airmen and marines. and you write early on in the book it was 12:15 a.m. june 6th, 1944. the most important day of the 20th century. the first americans had arrived in france. why do you think d-day was the most important day of the 20th century? >> because it led to a europe that you see today. the restoration of civilization, the human rights, of democracy, of peace in western europe. it was the foundation of atlanticism and the relationship between the united states and europe. and it led to the freedom of millions and millions of europeans in western europe. 19 million civilians died in europe in world war ii.and cana when americans and british and a french and canadians landed on s
d-day june 6th, 1944, it gave countless millions hope that barbarism and the rule of nazism, that that terrible, terrible genocide and oppression would finally end. >> our guest, alex kershaw. we welcome your calls and comments ahead of the 75th anniversary of d-day. 202-748-8001, mountain and pacific. and for those of you with world war ii veterans in your family, that line is 202-748-8002.to we'll getet to your calls short. i do want to start with a photo that most all of us have seen at some point or another in our lives. the famous jaws of death photo. what's the significance of thiso photo that you'veok included in similar version that's on the front of your book? >> it's probably the best photo you can find of what it was like for first wave troops approaching the deadliest beach
of five beaches on d-day. that's omaha beach. that landing craft is approaching easy red sector, one of eight sectors. the second deadliest sector. and guys on that boat will be we killed. very atmospheric shot of what it was like to thn approach bloody omaha. over 900 americans will be and n killed on that beach. far more than any other allied soldiers on any other beach on d-day. it's a momentce of vi anticipat immense violence and slaughter and death. >> alex kershaw, guests, callers waiting. let's hear first from ralph in morning view, kentucky.wa hi there.t >> caller: how is itof going?on my dad served in world war ii, but he was part of the occupation force after combat. but i was just wondering, how many men did we actually lose on omaha beach that day? >> well, on good authorities we
know it's over 900. it's impossible to say right down to the exact man but it's over 900 on omaha beach. now compare that with the other american beach which was utah. at utah you had less than 200 casualties that's killed, wounded, taken prisoner. omaha, 900 killed. over 2,500 casualties. so very different stories. utah beach was an immense success. omaha was a bloody disaster. >> joseph next. plano, texas. good morning. >> caller: how are you doing? >> fine. go ahead with your comment. >> great, thanks. >> caller: yeah, i was -- the other caller that said it was inappropriate to talk about the president, you know, this memorial day. well, first of all, the sacrifices of the greatest generation has a little bit to do about it because you got to remember the president did his
deferment and his bone spur controversy. and somebody had to take his place. >> thanks, joseph. we've moved on from that topic. talking about d-day with alex kershaw, our guest and his new book "the first wave." this is hillsdale, new jersey, and robert. welcome. >> caller: good morning. thank you for writing the book. and the question i asked was about the bedford boys and the memorial there. i've been privileged to be there. i was there a couple years ago on veterans day when they brought all the schoolchildren and lined up all the veterans next to that landing craft you're seated to the left of. and those children went by. must have been 100 veterans there from various campaigns, and it was fantastic to see those children thank those veterans in person. and it's a great thing. i'm just -- it's a shame it took so long to get that memorial built there. what do you think the difficulty was, mr. kershaw? >> i think it's a difficulty with many memorials.
the national world war ii memorial in d.c. was built far too late as far as most people are concerned. i think it took a long time for people to realize that we needed to memorialize the second world war. it's a shame, but we have to remember that it is here. i'm sitting here right now. it's been open since 2001. it was open by president bush in 2001, and we do have now beautiful national memorials all over the u.s. and, in fact, in europe to american sacrifice lost in world war ii. >> alex kershaw, in general, how were the men selected to be part of this first wave? were they looking for a specific experience, character traits? or they just needed raw numbers? >> it's a mixture of birth. it's a great question. for omaha beach it was a mixture of two divisions. the first television which had seen combat before. some guys who landed in the first wave with the big red one- on omaha were in their third
first wave. they'd been in north africa and sicily and then omaha beach. the other division to which the bedford boys belonged was a raw division completely green. a national guard division and not one of those guys had seen y combat before. men we had a w problem which was th, we onlyly had so many men we cod put into that battle who had y actually seen combat before. two-thirds of the americans on c d-day had never had a shot fired at them in anger. so it was a combination. for certain key objectives that were very difficult, very challenging. the storming of the cliffs. we used elite troops, the rangers. 101st airborne were, let's guy troops. most oft of those neguys,ver those guys had never seen combat before the 101st airborne. the 82nd airborne had.co the vast majority of americans on d-day had never been in combat before. >> one of those green troops was a man you write a great deal about, lieutenant john spalding, leader of the e company, 16th
infantry regiment.ding the first wave of a men on the beach. you write about lieutenant spalding and his second in command, sergeant phil strecht.h what was their relationship, and describe those first couple of moments where they stepped off t the boat, lieutenant spalding stepping off that higgins boat into the water. >> well, first of all, you have to remember that when they came in towards the beach, they'd been told it would be as flat as a pancake that the american bombing would have been very effect pitch all they had to worry about is when they got on land and the germans would counterattack. when they dared to look over the edge of that landing craft about 200 or 300 yards from the beach, their hearts fell. they were utterly dismayed to see that nothing had been touched by preinvasion bombing. the ramp came down. spalding was right at the front of the landing craft. 28-year-old guy. never seen combat before from
owensboro, kentucky. sports writer before the war. he had to shout at his men that he was going to go first. he was going to test the depth of the water. the noise level was absolutely extraordinary. veterans have described it to me as a wall, a constant wall of noise. you would hear every now and again the rip like a piece of cloth being torn close to your ear of a machine gun which could kill our entire platoon, in fact, could have killed spalding's landing craft platoon in seconds. he goes into the water. it's cold. there's a jolt. machine gun bullets everywhere. goes under the water because he walks into a runnel. has a pack on his back. tries to get rid of the pack, comes back up and manages to wade to the beach and then crawls across a stone shingle beach and finds protection finally by the ruins of a small, a small villa that had been heavily shelled. it took him about an hour and a half from -- landed at 6:32 a.m.
easy red sector and around about 8:00 in the morning he managed to cross, not only get off a landing craft and lead his men across 300 or 400 yards of flat sand and then across shingle, but then up a mine field which was part of a bluff and finally emerged, finally took a german strongpoint about 8:00 in the morning and, therefore, became the first american officer to lead americans off the bloodiest beach on d-day. >> back to calls for alex occur shaw as we look at the 75th anniversary of d-day on "washington journal" and american history tv. this is celine in winston-salem, north carolina. >> caller: yes, i had a granddaddy that was in world war ii, but they couldn't find him no more because they locked him up.r. they fought for american people all over.iscern i just wondered, do we -- how do
we get these -- some people have been missing in the war, and they keep them in jail. so that's what my granddaddy was -- they had him. and why we keep saying something about donald trump. don't you know donald trump was a corporation man? >> we'll hear from walter next. new albany, indiana. walter, you're with alex kershaw. go ahead. >> caller: okay. i want everybody out there who is paying attention to this broadcast to know one thing. that when it comes to losing a war or winning a war, that's a geopolitical matter. when it comes to the man on the ground eating the fire, it's more simple than that. that is when it comes to winning or losing a war, the winners walk out and the losers don't. and that is the perspective of a
combat veteran. thank you for your time. >> thank you, walter. alex kershaw, your thoughts on walter's perspective on what it took. >> well, there was a critical moment on omaha beach. a critical moment for the entire invasion actually. so many men had been wounded and killed. there was very little communication. around about 10:30, 11:00 in the morning, general omar bradley, five miles out at sea, seriously considered pulling american troops off omaha beach. had he pulled american troops off omaha beach on june 6th, 1944, i believe that d-day would have been a disaster. that would have been a great defeat, not a great victory for allied forces. the difference was made as omar bradley said, the difference was made by individual americans, young officers getting their guys to stand up, walk into the line of fire and have the courage to sacrifice their lives and lead others into enemy fire. it came down to individuals.
maybe four or five dozen young officers on omaha beach. that made the difference between victory and defeat on d-day on omaha and during the entire battle. we can reduce this down to critical moments and say that key individuals, key americans, american guts and courage, made the difference on d-day. >> i was amazed in lieutenant spalding's case and a couple others you write about how much gear was lost right away. in spalding's case, wading into water. tell him to ditch a machine gun and all sorts of other gear. he barely winds up on the beach with which equipment at all. did that surprise you they could continue to fight with so much of their gear either in the water or being lost or elsewhere? >> well, one of the problems is that omaha beach, they had very high surf. you have to remember that the night of the 5th of june had been a storm in the english channel. when those guys came in, some of them had been in the water for three, four hours. some of them had circled several
times. in one landing craft, i talked to one veteran who said that 5 out of 6 guys were puking up for several hours before they even landed on the beach. in fact, you read testimony after testimony and i've interviewed veterans who said they didn't care how many bullets were coming at them. they wanted to get their feet on dry grand or on a beach. so they should have gone in lightly armed like the rangers, for example. didn't carry masses of equipment. their job was to get somewhere fast and effectively and with minimum armaments, minimum weight. when you jump into water and have a 70-pound pack and an m-1 rifle and a radio on your back, and that gets wet, that equipment gets wet, as spalding said, his uniform felt like lead weights. they were slowed down massively by the equipment and the fact that their uniforms were very wet. in fact, spaulding said when he looked to his left on ama haw beach in the first wave he saw guys staggering as if walking into a very heavy wind that morning because of the weight of
their packs and the weight of their wet uniform. >> the book is that question first wave: the d-day warriors who led the way to victory in world war victory. alex kershaw joining us from d-day memorial in bedford, virginia, rkz welcoming your comments. we showed letter from dwight d. eisenhower just before a photo of him speaking with 101st airborne paratroopers. you write he was quite concerner afterwards. actually you said afterwards that he broke into tears after he left this. >> the driver, the 36-year-old h irish, anglo irish beauty, very attractive indeed, he got into e the jeep with her after he bade
fairwell and he had tears in your eyes. he said it was very hard to look a young american in his eyes and know you're sending him to death. i love him. i think the front he showed, the charm. when you look at the original film, it's the blue eyes, the smile, not a moment of fear or d recitationn he shows to these tt young americans. all. he's a great leader. he shows great confidence. he wasn't confident at all. he had a ahe had palsy in his r. that was from signing so many orders he actually had to use a lead pencil, a constant ringing in his right ear, smoking 60 filtered cigarettes a week. basically he was a wreck but he dared not show it for the generals or the men who would fight and die for him. a class act. a guy who could hide that tension and emotion and show confidence because we needed to show confidence. it was a very, very risky
operation d-day, very risky indeed. >> phone lines. for those of you with world war ii relatives or world war ii veterans 202-748-8002. david, wellsboro, pennsylvania. good morning. >> good morning. thanks for taking my call. i'd like to remark about d-day. my father went in on utah beach. he was lucky in a sense that itl was utahd, beach. people focused on omaha, which n rightly they should,s, but let'r look at the whole picture and look at the canadians, the british, and the rest -- utah and omaha. everyone that stepped off the landing craft were as brave as anybody else. of war, the luck of
the draw makes a big difference. it doesn't matter what happens. you could be lucky or you could be brave and you can be unlucky. i attribute all those guys who stepped off that thing. i'm a vietnam veteran and my son served with 75th regimen in iraq and afghanistan. i appreciate all those veterans that stepped forward and didn't do -- too bad he with don't have someone in the white house that appreciates it. >> alex kershaw. , >> yes.but jur th we have to remember that utahe and omaha dominate the american narrative but juno beach for th0 canadians, there were 900 ch, americans killed -- more than se 900 killed in omaha but over 300 canadians killed at juno beach. that's the second deadliest beach on d-day.
we also have to remember something very important about the canadians, neighbors, great allies, very, very strong allies, is that they were all volunteers. every single guy, every single canadian that stepped out of a landing craft onto juno beach, every canadian that jumped out of c-47 dakota on d-day was a volunteer. they haven't have to be there. that made their courage special, i think, made it unique certainly on d-day. the story of allied cooperation, superb allied cooperation, the pinnacle of allied cooperation in world war ii. we must never forget it was a joint effort. we fought side by side and died side by side. the victory was one sought by several nations, not just one. >> your book is full of stories, firsthand accounts from veterans. what was your primary source, alex kershaw, letters home? their personal diaries? interviews with some surviving veterans? >> it was a combination of many
things. interviews with veterans, of course. unfortunately there are not many alive today. in fact, several died during the five years i was working on the book. we're very lucky in the u.s. and britain and canada. we've interviewed world war ii veterans at great, great length, world war ii museum, imperial war, library of congress. we've interviewed veterans at great, great length. i was able to delve into a treasury trough of oral histories. hundreds and hundreds of hours of oral histories. we've done a good job. we've done a good job of preserving the memories of these great warriors. >> let me ask you about the son of theodore roosevelt, teddy roosevelt jr. and his participation in the invasion of normandy a normandy. >> incredibly, 56-year-old, oldest general officer on d-day. he begged -- basically begged to
go in with the fourth division on the first wave of utah and actually did arrive on the first wave on utah beach. 6:28 was the time of the first americans wade ashore. a guy called captain leonard schroeder. schroeder remembered looking over to his right and seeing this 56-year-old guy who had arthritis and a very bad heart with a walking stick huffing and puffing his way across utah beach in the very first wave on d-day. so an extraordinary guy. i think he had a father-son complex. he wanted to prove he was as courageous as his famous father. that day he actually did. he became one of four americans to receive the medal of honor for actions on june 6th, 1944. extraordinary courage, extraordinary american leader on d-day at utah. >> correct me if i'm wrong. that's teddy roosevelt jr., and his son was actually in the invasion as well, am i right? >> amazingly the father on utah
and son with big red one on omaha. tragically the father died july 12th, 1944 of heart failure. i think the stress of leadership in the peninsula, the savage combat the 4th division endured after d-day basically killed him. but the son just a couple of hours before his father died was able to see his father and check with him how he was doing. >> let's go back to calls with alex kershaw and this is janice in michigan. good morning. >> good morning. mr. kershaw, my dad was a sergeant in the army air corps. d-day was his 24th birthday. he had s met my mom, a scottish girl. he 3u9 her on queen mary when
they learned she was pregnant with me, so the first child would be born in the u.s. i've always been curious about the second wave, because my dad, named sandy blakeman, was a photograph photographer. he went in on the second door. he public libd a bo-- published book "over there" photographs he took over there. it's out of print, of course. i was just wondering, what happened in the second wave? we've all heard the stories about the first wave, and i look forward to reading your book. what did the people in the second wave do, if you could please tell me that. thanks. >> first of all, it's great to be talking to a fellow someone related to a british lady, put it that way. the americans that came over to england stole an awful lot of
our beautiful young roses. i think the queen mary at one point took around 7, 8,000 british women back to the u.s. after the war. the second wave, depending where you were. back to omaha beach, i'm in bedford, virginia, and when i was writing bedford boys about g the lads uyhere, fro the boys ho died on omaha beach, i interviewed a guy who was in thd second wave, from company b from lynchburg, virginia, about 20 miles to the north of me here. he said he came in on the second wave. when he landed on omaha beach after the first wave, the second wave, all he could see were dead bodies. you were as likely to die in the second, third, fourth wave as you were in the first wave. by the time the second, third, fourth, the germans presighted their machine guns. they knew they were coming. it was target practice in the most dangerous sectors, easy red
and dark green, it was literally target practice by the time you got to the second wave. >> we've been talking -- >> just as high a chance -- >> we've been talking a good deal about the landings on the beaches. you also write a great deal with the paratroopers, and the gliders, aircraft used to land soldiers behind enemy lines. describe these gliders and how t many menha were delivered that way. >> you have to bri imagine you'n a glide r, british spectacularl took the bridge, first successful operation of d-day. they were let loose in basically a about 6 wooden and canvas gli0 feet at midnight june 6th, 1944. the pilot had a compass and h stopwatch, that was all.
in the case of the bridge, they crashsh landed, 30 guys grippin each other's hands, a butcher's grip, crash landing at 60 miles, an hour in and a wooden and can glider. it literally was a suicidal operation and they knew it. guys were concussed, they were injured. there were many, many casualties certainly with the glider operation on d-day. in that one case they managed within 10 minutes to see the la. bridge, which was the first operation of d-day. you're crash landing in a canvai and wooden plane. it's incredible to think they would volunteer to do that, letu alone succeedes and live after that experience. >> the british and the americans used these gliders, correct? >> yes, used the glider. being a glider pilot on d-day
was perhaps the most dangerous mission. whatever happened, you were crash landing. where you were crash landing, you were under enemy fire, hedge rows, fields. think about it. you've got 30 guys' lives in your hands. you're in a glider being shot at, fired at constantly and you're landing in a mine field, 15 feet poles with telemines and barbed wire attached to them. there wasn't a more difficult job on d-day than being a glider pilot. >> more calls, this is spencer in norwalk, maine. >> hi, how are you doing? my grandfather atom has beach. he joined the navy when he was 18 years old and found himself in a little talked about group
called navy six beach battalion. they called them the sailors that looked like soldiers. they were attached to the army for the d-day landing. i believe in the first five seconds of saving private ryan, the 6th navy beach battalion is featured in the opening scene. i was just wondering if there's anything that's been written about the six beach battalion and if there's anybody out there from that battalion. i did tweet to the washington journal a picture of my grandfather. he made it, my father, his son, joined the marine corps, went to vietnam, and he did lose a leg. he came home, my grandfather did, and raised a big family. my grandfather is gone now. any information on the 6th would be appreciated. >> if you want to tweet that
we're at wdj. thanks for calling in on that. alex kershaw. >> first of all, it's a great privilege to talk to you. i'm in bedford here. as you can see to my left, there's a plaza covered with plaques of each of the individual units on d-day. your grandfather landed in the most elizabethal place at the most lethal time on d-day that any allied troop could find himself on. dog green sector, he became before the first wave. you look at the 20 minutes of saving private ryan, those amazing minutes of carnage and death and slaughter, your grand father was in those scenes as were the bedford boys. he landed in a dangerous place misdemeanor. i think it's a miracle he survived, succeeded the first wave. he would have seen an enormous amount of trauma and death. p
you must be -- you should be extremely, extremely proud. it >> there's ais o picture in you book, alex kershaw of captain frank lilyman.standa there he is with a helmet and cigar. you said jumping with a cigar w. captain was pretty much standard for him. tell us about his role in the opening ininvasion, first wave. >> captain frank liliman was from new york, 28 years old on d-day. he had made 43 practice jumps on d-day. onlyfinder one as he was about p out of a p-7, a pathfinder from the 105th airborne. recognized in 1954 as the very first american -- very first rmy cowboy yank to put his bots on the ground on d-day.on one an extraordinary achievement, if you think about it. as they he made many practice jumps, noo
once in combat i should say. m on one occasion, his men were looking at him as they were strapped up and saw they were about to jump out of a c-47 andd he didn't have a cigar in his mouth. they were shocked and surprised, looked worried because they werf superstitious, he grabbed a cigar and stuck it in his mouth and jump. he jumped 500 feet at 12:50 a.m. took him five seconds to drop 1200 feet.till when his parachute hit that field in normandy, he still had a cigar in his mouth. great bpanache, great style. wounded at market garden, finished the war with many decorations. >> about how many allied troops paratrooped in. >> around about 25,000.
101st airborne and 82nd airborne for americans, 6th airborne with canadian elements for the british and canadians. >> okay. let's hear from suzanne next in sacramento, california. suzanne, good morning. go ahead. >> good morning. i thought of my mother when the previous woman mentioned the need for documentation of women's involvement. my mother was one of the welders at the philadelphia navy yard. my father went to north africa and italy. really one of the saddest memories for my father was the fact that when he was on troop train, he was a black soldier, often the black soldiers weren't given seats. they were made to sit on their duffel bags, sit on the floor. when they had events at uso, they sat behind the officers at the feet of people. really until president truman came in, the army was still
segregated and they suffered terribly. that story has not really been told. i hope you might consider that for one of your future studies. >> definitely. i think one of the great achievements of world war ii -- midsoutherners fighting in world war ii, it transformed american society. the america we know today was built out of that transformative experience. so i think segregation, for example, started to break down, the first big fishes in segregation came through the experience of soldiers in world war ii who showed they deserved to be equal citizens. they certainly were just as brave and just as competent as every american fighting in that great conflict. >> we had that caller a while ago talk about the navy six beach battalion. he has, indeed, tweeted the photo of his granddad. the question you answered. the navy 6th beach battalion
atom has, the sailors that looked like soldiers. my grandfather. here from york, pennsylvania. linda, good morning, go ahead. >> good morning. thanks for taking my call. can you hear me? >> we can. go ahead. >> i have a question or comment for mr. kershaw. every now and then they show a movie on cable tv called d-day. tom selleck stars as eisenhower. i'm sure it didn't get into all the nitty-gritty but shows how much pressure eisenhower had on him to plan this, especially with the rotten weather in england. he had to plan this to consider the least loss of life possible on these landings. there was one scene that i wasn't quite clear on. when eisenhower went to talk to the french president at the time, the french president was
very difficult and said he would not follow ike's plan. the french would do their own tt plan. i wasn't quite surere about tha. but is -- it only covers the basics of the pressure that ike faced in this war. i found it a very compelling movie. i'm sure there's more horror stories. but i wondered if mr. kershaw had seen this movie or was aware of it. thank you. >> alex kershaw. >> yeah. i've seep the movie. i'm a big fan of tom selleck, but i don't think he has as dream, a blue eyes as ike did, not as good looking. yes, we did have british. americans had serious problems with de gaulle. we didn't accept him as the national leader of the french. he had not been elected. it was not an official we could negotiate with officially. to come back to your point about
eisenhower. i don't think any man in the 20th century faced as much pressure as eisenhower did on the 5th of june, 1944, when he alone was able to give the decision to go. not church hill, not marshall in washington, not roosevelt, not the king of england. however much they would have liked to influence ike, tell him to go, only ike, allied supreme commander, 53 years old, only he could give the final decision to go. it was a very, very serious decision. when he gave the decision, ut literally rain was pelting the building he was holding his conference with the commanders. when he looked out the window at 4:00 in the morning on .5th of june, 1944, and was given the decision to give final orders to go, he was thinking my god, what am i doing, what am i sending
all of these soldiers to? he was under enormous crushing strain. let's not forget he had been under growing strain since january 19 44 when he came to take control. i don't think there was a decision so important, riding on the outcome and so much uncertainty. eisenhower himself had told a friend in washington, d.c., just a few weeks before d-day this was a huge, huge gamble. that in miss words we were placing everything on one number. everything on one number. there was no plan b. i believe we would never have gone back again. had we failed, it would have been the greatest failure in modern military history for the u.s. and allies. >> let's hear next from debbie calling us from rea heights,, south dakota. >> no, i'm calling from mitchell, south dakota. >> okay. that's good. >> okay. yes. i simply want to thank all the
veterans of all the wars united states soldiers have fought in. i had a dad and an uncle who happened to serve in the navy in world war ii and were not directly near the d-day invasion. but my uncle harold informed me more of the history than even my own dad did. i have one question, mr. kershaw, do you think the fact that they had -- first of all after pearl harbor every young man signed up but they had the draft also. do you think that helped with the success that we had in world war ii because the young men were from so many varied backgroun backgrounds. >> yeah. without the draft, we couldn't have won our way to victory in
the pacific and let's not forget the european theater. america was waging intense wars, over 3,000 miles away from this country where i'm speaking today. so it was a distant affair for most americans. there were hardly any americans suffered domestically. a handful were victims of japanese bombing on the west coast. americans didn't experience war as europeans did. the draft was absolutely essential. all americans of all different backgrounds gave pretty much everything during the second world war. let's not forget, it was a question of national survival. everybody gave everything because the futures -- the country's future was at stake. >> we are joined by alex kershaw this morning, author of the first wave, the d-day warriors, who led the way to victory in world war ii. he's joining us from bedford, virginia, the d-day memorial in bedford, virginia.
the bedford boys one of your prior eight works, alex kershaw, a number of books about world war ii. what made you want to focus on d-day, and in particular the story of the individual soldiers? >> i will be honest with you, it is because they gave me an amazing life. i was born in britain 53 years ago. i fell in love -- i'm a g.i. groom. i met my wife in london when i was 28. i have lived in this country for 25 years. my son was born in los angeles. but i grew up in a europe that was a united and peaceful place. we have enjoyed 75 years of peace in europe. that's the longest period in that continent's history a place scarred since time immemorial by killing and war and death. so i have been extraordinarily lucky, very, very lucky to have benefited from the sacrifice and liberation of western europe.
i consider myself english american but also very much european. i can't say thank you enough. i can't say ever thank you enough to the young men who gave their lives where i am sitting right now to allow me to have that life, to have that -- to enjoy those freedoms and to have done what i have been able to achieve in my life. because it was a gift, it was a beautiful, beautiful gift. >> let's hear from mike next in carb carbondale, colorado. >> caller: i just wanted to congratulate alex on another wonderful book, "the first wave." i wanted to share to my father, an immigrant from ireland, fought in world war ii, and then i had uncles fight in world war ii. one was killed, one was a p.o.w. alex's books hit home for me. i wanted to ask alex, a scene from the bedford boys, if he could relate to the audience
about what it was like for the western union operator, female, who started to receive the notifications of the boys who were dying in bedford. there were so many, they were actually people and families she knew. i would love to hear his comments about that. >> well, thanks for calling in, mike. i interviewed elizabeth. she was 29 years old in 1944. i'm actually going to go to a graveyard in bedford not far from where i'm sitting right now this afternoon, i'm going to visit graves of several of the bedford boys who were brought home. 22 killed in normandy in june and july of 1944. half of them are not far, a couple of miles from where i am sitting.
on july 21st, 1944, elizabeth went to work at the green's drugstore, still open today. she went to the western union telegraph at the back of the store and turned on the teletype machine. she told me it wouldn't stop for at least a couple of hours. these names kept coming through, killed in action, killed in action, missing in action. unbelievably when i talked to her, she told me there were so many names, all she could remember was that there were a lot of johns. i think what was so powerful at the moment of the teletype machine spitting out these messages of tragedy, is that the stutter of the machine guns killing these boys was echoed by the teletype machine spitting out the messages that went to the loves ones in bedford. it devastated this community. it was a very, very, very, very grief stricken tragic time.
you have to remember people in america knew on june 6th that we invade normandy. it was a huge, huge story, the biggest of the war for everybody in the allied nations.t co people in new bedford. they knew their sons were involved in some way,on but they had to wait weeks and s weeks to find out what happened to them. for a mail was returned.ar letters didn't come back. there were rumors. one woman told me it was like t waiting for an earthquake week, after week, after week, no news. what happened to our boys? finally that morning, elizabeth turns on the teletype machine and the truth comes out. >> was that delay typical? june 6th, the invasion. and you mention mid july when the bedford boys' news come to town. was that typical in terms of the notification of kin? >> absolutely. it took several weeks at least for the next of kin to be informed by telegram from the war office of what had happened
to their loved ones. a very long time to wait if you knew that your loved one had beened of involved in intense combat. the first photographs that appeared in the u.s. of what it was like to be an american at the sharp end on d day were taken by the photographer who landed with the big red on omaha beach. families living in bedford, where i'm sitting right now, opened "life" magazine on the 19th of june, 1944, and saw extraordinary images of carnage and death and intense violence. they knew their sons by then had been involved in that combat on omaha beach. so they had to still wait another month before they found out what had happened even though they had seen images of what might have happened with their loved ones. >> ten more minutes with our guest alex kershaw. we have time for a few more questions, bill? mount pleasant,, south carolina.
>> good morning. >> good morning. >> caller: i would like to thank c-span3 for a great program, and our author, mr. kershaw. mr. kershaw, my question to you is supposedly president or general eisenhower at the time wrote a letter in the car about bringing the troops off the shores because of the invasion had failed. i am wondering if you could comment about that. thank you so much. >> i think if you want a moment that epitomizes great, great leadership from any american in world war ii and from i believe one of your greatest presidents, eisenhower, it's this. it's that on d day he had a note in his back pocket. they found it several weeks later. the note had been written by eisenhower before he gave the order to go. it said, our men, our troops, sailors, soldiers, our men haveo done their very best.
they showed the greatest courage, or words to that effect. unfortunately, the invasion hasl failed. and i alone -- i alone take responsibility.ers. so that sense that he was going to take it all on his shoulders. not only giving the decision to go, but if it failed, he would accept responsibility, solely him is a sign of a great man. of a great, great man. >> you are joining us this morning from the d-day memorial in bedford. i understand recently you led a tour of normandy. who joined you on that tour? >> it was a group of americans. i do tours with the national world war ii museum. i was there two or three weeks ago. we visited all the places that i have been talking about, went to the section, easy red sector where spaulding came ashore, the
sector where bedford boys came ashore. i always say when i take americans to omaha beach, particularly where the bedford boys were slaughtered, i say there is no place any american can go on the planet where you will feel more proud to be on the beach in normandy. that's the place americans enjoyed their best hour. the best moment was when you kicked brits out, the second was d-day, 1944, where you gave american lives, over 900 in omaha beach, one beach where you gave many american lives, 20,000 killed in the battle of normandy, where you gave american lives. the old world came to libera liberate -- the new world came to liberate the old. where americans sacrificed their lives so others could grow up in freedom, so i could grow up in freedom. i do this with people i take to the beaches in normandy. i say by 1944, june the 6th,
1944, americans were in no danger of being invade. americans were in no danger of being invaded. american freedom was assured. the americans who served in the europe theater who laid down their lives, who stepped out of landing craft, who jumped out of c-47s on june 6th, 1944, they laid down their lives for europeans, not in terms of importance, in terms of freedom for americans. they laid down their lives for europeans. it was an act of greatal truism. i think it's the greatest acto f offof altruism in history. >> now a caller from west virginia. >> caller: hello. i would like to say, today being memorial day, i am so proud of all the people that served. i'm a veteran myself, vita ma'am -- vietnam veteran. my father was in the sixth army rangers. and they actually made a move
about him 15 years ago called "the great raid." my mom lost two of her brothers, one in germany and one in the death march. if not for all those people and those that served in world war ii we wouldn't be here today. today being memorial day. i am happy that my family served. all the people that served, it makes me really feel good today. thank you. >> alex kershaw, tell us about -- one of the many men you write about is lieutenant colonel james rudder. >> a wonderful guy. yet again, one of the many, many americans -- american combat commandsers, too. guys that had really serious jobs to do on d-day. colonel rudder was in charge of the second ranger battalion that assaulted hawk. it was called the most difficult
job on d-day. these guys had to scale on 100 foot hooks. rudder had never been in combat. the only guys he had ever led under any kind of stress was a college football team. but did a wonderful job on d-day over 225 guys in the second ranger battalion assaulted there. they suffered over 60% casualties. rudder had been to the same spot where he was wounded twice on june 6th, 1944. he kept on fighting defending his men and fought for 48 hours before his men were relieved by fellow americans. they had -- the second range of battalions, many of those guys had not slept on the night of the 5th of june and were relieved on the 8th of june. 72 hours of combat, of adrenaline peaking and flowing, losing your loved ones, your brothers, guys that you treated
like your real brothers because they were in combat with you. very high casualties. an extraordinary job and went on to become, i think, texas a&m's greatest ever president. he was a wonderful leader in combat, much loved by his men. when he was decorated, awarded the dsc after june th, 1944, a couple weeks later, he cried in front of his men. he held up his dsc and said, this is for you. you did this. and one of the guys shouted back out to him, you keep it for us. he was a wonderful combat leader but never had a shot fired at him in anger before d-day. it is extraordinary how men found their moment. tested, ordinary working class americans, when the issue was right, the task was supreme, performed miracles. >> that dfc is that distinguished flying cross?
>> distinguish service cross. 153 americans received the dsc for actions on omaha beach alone. only four medal of honor recipients for d-day. three belong to the big red one, john spalding's division on omaha. i think quite a few more guys deserve the medal of honor for d-day. that's history. that's past now. >> let's take one more call, mark from michigan. hello there. >> caller: hello there. my name is mark stowers. my father was at omaha beach at d-day. he was in the second wave. they already seen what was happening on the beach. they didn't go out the toronto of the ship out of the boat, landing craft, they went out the side. they were on the ranger division. and they were talking about the
beach being bloody. he said he saw the movie tom hanks made. he said it was just like being there. everything else. he said he climbed that cliff. he was also at bastone where the germans surrounded them, and his commander just said that's nuts. >> alex kershaw, some final thoughts. >> i think that the 75th anniversary of d-day is a very important event. i think it is a unifying event. for americans. i think this country needs unity more than it has in a very long time. more americans should reflect on the 75th anniversary of d-day, of what this nation achieved in unity with other nations, allied to other nations, what was given. what was given was human life, the most precious thing, so others could be free, so america could stand by its founding values of equality, democracy, justice and human rights. i think that's something we should remember. americans were unified and fought together and achieved a great, great victory because
they were together and they weren't divided. >> the book is "the first wave, the d-day warriors who led the way to victory in world war ii." our guest alex kershaw joining us from d-day memorial in bedford, virginia. thank you so much for your time. >> thank you. my great honor. all week we're fiching american history programs as a preview of what's available on c-span3, lectures in history, american artifacts, real america, the civil war, oral histories, the presidency. and special event coverage about our nation's history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on c-span3. >> weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight we examine the "apollo
11" moon landing. the first moon landing took place july 20th, 1969. american history tv and washington journal marked the anniversary with three hours of live interviews and viewer phone calls from the smithsonian national air and space museum in washington, d.c. guests included "apollo 11" astronaut michael collins and director of air and space museum. you can watch that tonight starting at 8:00 eastern on c-span3. enjoy american history tv this week and every weekend on c-span3. >> the first afrikaackaancans tn 1916, that would begin an amazing experience in the development of the united states. >> saturday a special american history tv washington journal feature as we look back to the first arrival of africans to america 400 years ago.
at point com fort historic fort monroe in virginia. we're live with norfolk history professor cassandra alexander newby for the history and origins of slavery in america. then at 9:30, live coverage of commemorative ceremonies with speeches by virginia government officials, including senator mark warner, senator tim kaine, governor ralph northam and lieutenant governor fairfax. the history of african's in america from fort monroe saturday at 8:30 a.m. on c-span's washington journal, and on american history tv on c-span3. beginning of august in paris, we're seized. what could be confirmed, towards the middle of the moment the germans started to leave the city.