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Leon Bibb: Reflecting on D-Day 75 years ago and recalling the stories a soldier father told his young son about World War II

D-Day may have been the most important day in the 20th Century because democracy hung in the balance as freedom battled tyranny.

CLEVELAND — I often stand at the grave of my father and render a salute.  

In the final days of his life when his memory of recent events were foggy, he had strong memories of World War II and his time of wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army.  As I did at his hospital bedside when his memory of recent times would lapse, he could easily name every city and village which he entered as he drove a truck across Europe during the war.

As I stand at his grave, I usually end my "talks" with Dad with a salute to Sergeant Bibb. When he was in the hospital that last time, I called him by his military rank because he often spoke of his four years in the Army when he chased Hitler's forces through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and in the final days of the war, Germany itself.

Leon Bibb, my father, was not there for D-Day, June 6, 1944, but he did go in across the beach of Normandy, France, eleven days later. Thus, he began his push. Dad throttled a truck carrying whatever needed to be carried to where it was needed. Guns, bullets, mortar shells, gasoline, food, clothing, medical supplies would be among the various things he and others who were part of the Red Ball Express carried. The Red Ball Express was the name of the trucking outfits which moved materials throughout the war effort in Europe.

When I see the historical footage of D-Day, I think of all the men who battled enormous gunfire aimed at them as they left their landing crafts which took them across the last few miles of the English Channel. They waded through waist-deep water to get a foothold on the beach of Normandy. Many had never seen battle before, but they waded ashore or parachuted from above. Some never made it out of the landing craft as the German machine guns spit hot hell out of their barrels.

More than 156,000 allied soldiers and sailors were part of D-Day. American, British, Canadian, and soldiers from other nations were part of what was termed Operation Overlord.

On D-Day alone, more than 4,000 Allied troops were killed and another 6,000 were wounded. Most who hit the beaches were pinned down by the fire of machine guns and heavier weapons. Some men seemed frozen in place because of the horror of what they faced. But turning back and returning to the ships and boats at sea was not an option. Staying in place under heavy fire was not an option.  One officer later recalled telling men who were hunkered down under the gunfire. "In fifteen minutes, there will be two kinds of men on this beach -- those who are dead and those who are gonna be dead."

The only direction was straight forward into the gunfire. 

D-Day has been called The Longest Day. Indeed, it was.

So on this 75th anniversary of D-Day, I pause to reflect on the price which has been paid for freedom and for the democracy under which we now live. Had the invasion not been successful, who knows how the war would have ended. Freedom swept in from the sea on the shore of France and tyranny was dug in above the beach, trying to stop freedom from getting a foothold on the European continent.

My Dad was able to get the materials he was ordered to deliver to troops throughout the European part of the war because of the price paid on the beaches of Normandy.  

That was 75 years ago.  

There are men still alive who were there. We salute them. For those who were killed in the European campaign and whose bodies are buried in the cemeteries in France and elsewhere, we salute their memories.  

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