updated 6/7/2004 10:24:19 AM ET 2004-06-07T14:24:19

Guests: Joe Balkoski, Dal Estes, Pete Herrly


ANNOUNCER:  The attack had been planned for two years.  It would involve 1,000 planes carrying 18,000 paratroopers, 7,000 ships and 150,000 men.  This was D-Day, and at dawn, the world would change forever. 

GEN. DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, U.S. ARMY:  We will expect nothing less than full victory. 


ANNOUNCER:  Reporting tonight from Normandy, Joe Scarborough. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Good evening. 

I‘m at the American Military Cemetery here in Normandy.  Behind me, 9,387 grave markers, a breathtaking tribute to the American troops who gave their all liberating France and the world from the grip of Adolf Hitler‘s Germany.  Everything surrounding D-Day then and now seems to take on epic proportions.  And so it is with this final resting place for American heroes who died here 60 years ago. 

At the end of the cemetery is the Garden of the Missing, where the names of 1,557 American soldiers, sailors and airmen whose remains have never been recovered are engraved on the marble wall.  Many were lost in the D-Day landings, which stretched 50 miles across the Normandy coastline in northern France.  The most brutal D-Day battle took place on the other side of this cemetery, just a few hundred yards away from here on what is still called bloody Omaha Beach by World War II vets. 

Now, 60 years ago tonight, an armada of historic proportions was beginning to gather in the English Channel.  The 150,000 men, the 7,000 ships and the 11,000 warplanes were all awaiting word when the invasion would begin.  British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose own political career was almost destroyed by a failed naval invasion in World War I, later described D-Day as the most difficult and complicated operation that has ever taken place. 

Now, D-Day was still two days off.  But Operation Overlord, as it was known Ike‘s commanders, was well under way.  I‘m going to be here in Normandy all weekend, including an hour-long special on both Saturday and Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.  That‘s going to be part of MSNBC‘s complete coverage of “D-Day at 60: A Celebration of Heroes.” 

Now, the D-Day of fortress Europe was a defining moment and a defining moment not only in the history of World War II, but also in the history of the United States.  It was also a time when the greatest generation left America‘s heartland to fight a war that they knew had to be won. 

To General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander and architect of D-Day, failure simply was not an option.  In his message to the troops, General Eisenhower wrote: “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.  The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.  We will accept nothing less than full victory.”

Tonight, veterans, presidents, prime ministers and America‘s finest have begun to move towards gathering on these hallowed grounds.  Now, I‘ve been in France following this story all week, and I‘ve had the honor of talking with survivors of the longest day.  And here‘s how one D-Day veteran, Dal Estes, described the first harrowing moments of D-Day. 


DAL ESTES, WORLD WAR II VETERAN:  We get on the shore and within 15 minutes, I lose three men.  The first was a 19-year-old boy, a medic, gone.  Artillery hit him.  And the second boy was my radio man, both legs blown off. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Tonight, we‘re going to take you on a tour of Omaha Beach, where the first wave of American troops took great losses.  And we‘re going to look at the obstacles they faced, including the German bunkers that hit guns that almost doomed the invasion.  Then I‘m going to be talking to the mayor of the first town to be liberated by Americans in 1944, when his father was mayor of that same town. 

And I‘m going to be talking to the author of a new book, “Omaha Beach.”  He‘s going to join us and tell us why the landing that took place on this beach was one of the great epic battles of all time. 

So, what was it really like on Omaha and the other invasion beaches?  Earlier today, I had the great honor of walking on that hallowed ground with military expert Pete Herrly. 


PETE HERRLY, MILITARY EXPERT:  They looked ashore and they saw—very difficult to make out the landmarks that they‘d studied.  They‘d been out at sea for two or three days.  Everybody is seasick.  And they‘re in a little bit of trouble.  They‘re a little bit off course. 

But the Germans aren‘t shooting at them until they get right here, until they get in closer, until they get in these obstacles. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So they come on shore.

HERRLY:  Yes. 


SCARBOROUGH:  And you‘re right.  You said they‘re seasick.  A lot of people obviously have read about how they were given pills to stop them from being seasick.  The only thing that did was make them sleepy. 

HERRLY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They come on shore waterlogged, and what‘s the first thing they‘re confronted with? 

HERRLY:  Well, first of all, a lot of the landing craft dropped the ramps right out there.  So the first thing they‘re confronted with is they‘re in a lot of water.  And the German machine gun fire starts hitting the fronts of the boats.

SCARBOROUGH:  Aiming to the front.  When it opens up, that‘s where they focus their fire.


HERRLY:  And before they drop the ramps, you can hear the bullets banging against the front.  And they open that ramp, and then just like in Private Ryan—Spielberg‘s guys did a great job with that—the guys in the front of the boat are just getting shot up. 

After they climb out of the water, they‘re under this incredibly heavy fire.  Right where you are, the sand is being kicked up by hundreds and hundreds of machine gun bullets.  There is a German soldier up there that fires 11,000 rounds, his own single position.  He just shot and shot and shot, he said.  And so, it‘s out here for these guys.  It‘s like nothing they‘d ever thought about. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I was always told and always read that this was a narrow strip of beach.  But actually, at low tide, where we are right now, it‘s a heck of a run you‘ve got to make exposed.  Look, it‘s remarkable.  I can‘t believe they made it up there. 


HERRLY:  No, that‘s really Rommel we‘re going to land at high tide.  He doesn‘t think we‘re going to expose the infantry to this amount of moving across what‘s absolutely flat and open. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s dead-man‘s land.  So these men are running forward, and there‘s really no command structure.  There‘s no organization.  It‘s every man for himself. 

HERRLY:  Frankly, if you‘re going to make it, you‘ve got to be lucky. 

But they‘re moving.  And where they‘re going for is right at the edge of the beach, where there‘s some shelter.  So a wall is actually seven, eight feet high made of all these little stones.  And so you actually crouch down, and you‘d be behind this wall.  And out there is a scene of terror and devastation.  It‘s covered with wounded.  That‘s why they call it bloody Omaha. 


HERRLY:  The water is literally running red with the blood of wounded guys, the dead guys.  It looks like Rommel‘s image of victory.

SCARBOROUGH:  So we‘re two hours into the battle.  The Germans are reporting from above back to their commanders that the Americans have lost.  Don‘t bother sending reinforcements. 

HERRLY:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The word‘s starting to slip out that things aren‘t going well, Omar Bradley saying that it looks like all is lost, and yet something very interesting is happening here behind this wall. 

HERRLY:  Right. 

Each individual serviceman, and especially their young leaders, are saying, we‘re not going to accept this.  We didn‘t come here to sit here and die.  We‘re not going to accept defeat.  And despite the enormous trauma and shock of losing our friends, our buddies, guys we trained with for years, this is the heart and soul of America saying, I‘m not going to get beat. 

And so, everywhere you are, individual leaders start trying to make decisions that are going to get you out of this mess.  Little groups of guys who can make it start from where they are.  Right up there, for instance, one landing craft with Lieutenant John Spalding and his 32 guys, they land, but they‘re in between these German strong points.  The fire is not so heavy.  They‘re not supposed to have landed there. 

They‘re supposed to land here, where it‘s very, very bad.  But they‘re there.  They get across right to the base of the shingle.  They start working their way up.  And right there where the American cemetery is, they find that nobody‘s shooting at them anymore.  They get through mines.  They lose another guy to another mine.  It takes every guts a man has to work through mines. 

And about the same time that we think it‘s all over, Spalding and his guys are at the top.  And guys down here see an American helmet up there.  Captain Joe Dawson and his guys from G Company, let‘s go that way. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s go that way.  Right. 

HERRLY:  And you find a little seam and you start piling through. 

The big decision is made by Colonel George Taylor.  He, right about where you‘re standing, gets up and starts walking down and talking to the men.  Guys, there‘s two kinds of people on this beach, those that are dead, and those that are going to die.  Now, get off your rear ends and let‘s go. 


SCARBOROUGH:  And German forces rained fire down from seemingly impenetrable fortresses high above bloody Omaha.  Pete Herrly gave me a look at the beach‘s last remaining artifact. 


HERRLY:  This is like a fly wall, a side wall to protect you.  And you can see how solid it is, how high it is.  It does two things.  It hides you and it physically protects you from fire. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It actually hides the muzzle flash. 

HERRLY:  That‘s right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So in the early moments of the battle, the first couple hours of the battle, in fact, they didn‘t know how they were getting cut down. 

HERRLY:  Exactly.  You could be in the middle of Omaha Beach right over there, a couple miles, you‘d be landing, all of a sudden, a heavy caliber round hits your landing craft.  It blows up.  Three, four guys get killed, a dozen guys get wounded, you have no idea where that came from. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And so that was taken care of how? 

HERRLY:  That was taken care of by the U.S. Navy bringing the destroyers in, touching the bottom in some cases, point-blank range, being able to get the angle, see the flashes and fire directly at it. 


SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m here now with military expert Pete Herrly. 

Pete, thanks a lot for that incredible tour earlier today. 

And I want to show our viewers back home how the first day—the fight on D-Day, how they faced more challenges than just German gunfire.  Let‘s talk by talking about what happened months before D-Day, where commandos and scientists came onto the beach under the cloak of darkness.  Who were they and what were they doing here? 

HERRLY:  These were allied scuba guys coming off the submarines, British, American, Royal Navy, engineers combined, working to get intelligence about how tough the sand was.  This was a mechanized force.

And the key data point was, would the beaches support all these tanks?  So they would get here and come ashore at night, under the nose of the German gunners.  And they‘d measure the density of the sand.  They‘d drive tubes down in there and take every test they could, bring it back in sample tubes that they‘d label with indelible markers. 

And they‘d bring that back.  And that‘s how they could base the final choice of these beaches and whether they could get these thousands of tanks and trucks and landing craft in without having them bogged down. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And that‘s remarkable.  And they did that—again, like you said, they did that well before D-Day under the cover of darkness. 

Now, let‘s move on here.  I‘ve got a little toy miniature tank.  Tell me how play tanks, imaginary toy tanks played into the invasion of Normandy. 

HERRLY:  It‘s the most critical thing to convince the Germans that we‘re coming where they think we‘re coming, across the narrowest part of the channel at the Straits of Dover.  They think it‘s the logical move. 

We‘ve got thousands of real tanks in the south of England ready to load up.  So we make a whole bunch of play tanks, rubber, that they can put six or 10 or 12 on a truck, off-load them and actually blow them up.  And in minutes, they become like a real tank.  They have thousands of these scattered over central and northeastern England.  They let some German aircraft come over and take some pictures every now and then. 

And they feed this to the German spies that the British have turned.  And so weeks after D-Day, the Germans are holding dozens divisions in the Patta Callay (ph), thinking that the real main effort is still coming. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Unbelievable.  So not only did it fool them on D-Day. 

It fooled them for weeks afterward. 

HERRLY:  Exactly. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And not telling how many lives that saved.

Finally, I want you to tell me about this little device in the few seconds we have left and how it saved Americans‘ lives. 

HERRLY:  Big problem in an airborne landing at night is who‘s friend and who‘s foe.  And so they had these crickets, just like a kid‘s toy, and they issues them to all the troopers.  I hear a noise, I make one cricket.  And if you‘re a friendly guy, you go—and that‘s just as simple as that.  And that‘s a way, in the dark of night in a strange country, they can tell who‘s who. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And if I don‘t do that, I get shot. 

HERRLY:  That‘s right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thanks so much, Pete, an amazing day.  Thanks for being here.  And I appreciate your insights, Pete Herrly. 

And when we come back, much more.  One veteran tells us what those first harrowing moments were when he jumped out of his landing craft and on to the bloody beaches of Omaha.  And we‘re going to be taking a look at the headlines that America woke up to 60 years ago Sunday. 

So don‘t go away.  We‘ll be right back.


SCARBOROUGH:  Hi.  I‘m Joe Scarborough live from the beaches of Normandy, where MSNBC continues its coverage of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. 

We‘ll be back with much more right after this.


SCARBOROUGH:  Sixty years ago this weekend, the liberation of Europe was under way and America‘s newspapers were dominated by the stunning news from the front. 


SCARBOROUGH (voice-over):  A Reuters correspondent watched the invasion of Normandy from the bridge of a Navy destroyer—quote—“Guns are belching flames from more than 600 allied warships.  Thousands of bombers are roaring overhead and fighters are weaving in and out of clouds, as the invasion of Western Europe begins.  In the past 10 minutes, more than 2,000 tons of high-explosive shells have gone down on the beach.”

And the first witness on the beach was a photographer who told “The New York Times” this: “It was hotter than hell over there.  The Germans put down an intense pattern of fire on the beaches.  At one point, Nazi machine guns wiped out some of the first troops as soon as the doors of their landing craft swung open.”

And a 21-year-old Thunderbolt pilot told “The Times” what he saw from above the beach—quote—“The Germans had hidden themselves in the cliffs facing the beach and were pouring deadly mortar fire down upon the advancing Americans   It was heart-breaking to hear their leader calling through his radio: “For God‘s sake, get those mortars quick.  Dig them out boys.  They are right down our necks.”


SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re going to have more reports from D-Day tomorrow and Sunday, including how editorial pages responded to the invasion. 

Now, our next guest was actually part of the invasion.  Sergeant Dal Estes fought at Omaha Beach with the 497th Automatic Weapons Battalion.  He told me what it was like landing and fighting at Omaha Beach. 


ESTES:  The first five minutes was confusion.  The next five hours was confusion. 

We circled around before we made the landing—made the landing.  And they dropped the ramp down.  My captain went off in about 100 feet of water.  This was the first thing we saw.  And he was a good swimmer and his driver was a good swimmer, and they got out.  But then we got on the beach, and within 15 minutes, I lost three men.  The first was a 19-year-old boy, a medic, gone.  Artillery hit him.  And the second boy was my radio man, both legs blown off. 

I‘m a sergeant.  I‘ve got 12 more men to take care of.  Now, what do I do?  I had to leave that man lay there and die.  And I‘ve often thought about that.  The third man had a hunk cut out of his rump, a sergeant.  And he was gone back to England.  But it was confusion.  Landing crafts are being blown up all along the shore. 

The Germans have got all kind of obstacles out there, the crossbar.  And they‘ve got barbed wire.  They‘ve got telephone poles with bombs on top of them.  Luckily, it was low tide.  My captain told me the night before.  He said, there will be 50 tanks on the beach.  They‘ll bomb that beach like hell, Omaha Beach.  And we didn‘t know the 352nd Infantry Division of the Germans was sitting right behind Omaha Beach. 

We landed at Easy Red, which was later called the bloody beach.  On the bombing, they didn‘t bomb the night before.  People say to me, what happened at Omaha Beach?  They didn‘t bomb the night before.  Those tanks, one was sitting on a beach when we got in.  It was waterlogged; 46 of 50 went down. 


ESTES:  So here we are without tank protection.  A lot of our artillery went down also.  We had our boys out too far.  We know that now.  And some of the boats swamped.  Some of them got hit.  I saw a boat sort of swamped halfway.  They turned around and some of them went back to England, they were so badly beat. 

But these are the things that happen in war.  It was just mass confusion. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Mass confusion.  And, again, so many plans were made.  Obviously, Eisenhower and his staff were planning this out as early as January, February 1943. 

ESTES:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They have the plans, and again, like you said, they were expecting to have air cover out there.  As you men stormed the beaches, they‘re expecting to have air cover, they‘re expecting to have tanks.  You had none of them. 

ESTES:  None, no.       

SCARBOROUGH:  It was mass confusion.  I want to know when—and, actually, two hours into it, the Germans were actually radioing, they didn‘t need reinforcements because they said the allies have lost.  We have slaughtered them on the beaches.  How did you do it?  How did you pull the men together and bring them up? 

ESTES:  Well, in the first place, the Germans were mistaken about us being whipped the first two hours.  We all were well-trained boys.  Let‘s say that.  I trained for two years before we made the landing.  And we trained for jungle fighting in Georgia.  We trained in the California desert for North Africa.  We trained up in Massachusetts.  And we were well trained. 

And there wasn‘t a boy that was with me that didn‘t think he was coming back.  I‘ll tell you this.  There was no atheists on the beach that day. 


SCARBOROUGH:  And along with Dal‘s three fallen buddies, America suffered a total of 2,400 D-Day casualties on Omaha Beach alone. 

But by the end of that day, they had landed a total of 34,000 troops behind me on bloody Omaha.  And the new Normandy port was open for business.  And that meant only one thing, the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler. 

Now, when we come back, the U.S. relationship with France has taken a bit of a chill lately.  But as French president Jacques Chirac tells NBC‘s Tom Brokaw, they still remember America‘s sacrifice. 

And then, one place where there‘s never been a strain in U.S.-French relations is the town of Saint Mere Eglise.  We‘re going to be talking to the mayor, whose father was the mayor of that same town when it was liberated by America 60 years ago.  Their family‘s memories are still ahead. 

That‘s next when we return to Normandy. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Hi.  I‘m Joe Scarborough from the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.  We‘re going to be continuing MSNBC‘s coverage of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion right after this short break. 

But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk. 


ANNOUNCER:  Welcome back to “D-Day at 60: A Celebration of Heroes.”

Once again, Joe Scarborough. 

SCARBOROUGH:  There have been a lot of changes in 60 years.  And one of the things that has changed is our relationship with France.  Since the start of the war in Iraq, many Americans have been critical of France‘s posture towards the United States and the war on terror. 

NBC‘s Tom Brokaw had an exclusive interview with French President Jacques Chirac earlier today about the state of U.S.-French relations. 


TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR:  Mr. President, I think many people are concerned that the unity that we‘ll see on D-Day between the United States and France, once the parades are over, the speeches are over and the fireworks have disappeared, the deep divisions will remain. 

JACQUES CHIRAC, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator):  Unity, sir, unity between France and the United States is something that has existed ever since the establishment, the inception of the United States 200 years ago. 

Now, as ever and as in every family, there might be difficulties, diverging views, but unity is something that has never been questioned, at least never been called into question by France.  And I don‘t think it has ever been called into question by the U.S. either.  And I think that the D-Day celebrations have, as a purpose to illustrate this unity.  And the thing that I would like to tell the American public is that we are particularly moved in the context of this anniversary. 

And I would like to thank them, to express our gratitude and say that we have not forgotten and will not forget. 


SCARBOROUGH:  U.S.-French relations may be strained in some places, but that‘s not the case everywhere. 

Henri Jean Renaud is the son of the former mayor of Saint Mere Eglise, the first French town to be liberated by Americans.  Now, in 1944, Renaud‘s father was the mayor of that fine town, where honoring American liberators has always been important. 


SCARBOROUGH (voice-over):  In the wake of freedom fries and the boycotting of French wine, you might think there was little love left for Americans here in France or, for that matter, little love for the French here in America. 

STEVE DUNLEAVY, “THE NEW YORK POST”:  They don‘t remember what this country, what Britain and the allied forces did for them when they were crying for mercy. 

SCARBOROUGH (on camera):  This week, journalists across America and the world are going to be focusing on the poor state of U.S.-French relations.  But as you come into Normandy, France, you‘re greeted immediately by waving American flags hanging off of cars, homes and even businesses.  And at every corner, you‘re confronted once again with the amazing sacrifices made by American troops and their allies 60 years ago on this sacred ground. 

(voice-over):  You find a lot of those U.S. flags here in Saint Mere Eglise. 

CAPT. CHRIS LARKIN, U.S. SOLDIER:  It‘s a fantastic relationship we have here with the people of Saint Mere Eglise.  They are hosting us.  They go out of their way to help us in any way they can. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They go out of their way for this visiting serviceman and his squadron, because decades ago the 82nd Airborne went out of their way, literally dropping from the sky in parachutes and liberating the town from Nazi troops after a bloody battle. 

HENRI JEAN RENAUD, SON OF FORMER MAYOR OF SAINT MERE EGLISE (through translator):  I have never forgot it.  It is not something that you forget 60 years later. 

SCARBOROUGH:  His name is Henri Renaud, and his father was mayor here when the airborne paradropped into the village on June 6, 1944. 

RENAUD (through translator):  I was only 10 years old, but it was something that I constantly discussed with my parents, with my brother, and we tried to remember the little things that we would otherwise forget. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Actually, it‘s hard for anyone to forget America‘s role in the liberation of Saint Mere Eglise.  Just ask its mayor today, who stands proudly in front of an American flag in his very own city hall. 

MARC LEFEVRE, MAYOR OF SAINT MERE EGLISE (through translator):  The 3rd Battalion of the 505th Regiment‘s Missouri was to take Saint Mere Eglise.  They took it very early and raised this flag at 4:00 a.m.  That‘s why the city was the first liberated town in France. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Visit the local church and you‘ll see this suspended figure.  Meant to represent John Steele, a soldier who hung for several hours after his parachute caught on the church‘s bell tower.  In fact, Saint Mere Eglise is called a little piece of America in these parts.  You heard right, a little piece of America.  And now you can understand why. 

And for Henri Renaud, whose parents kept close connections with America throughout their lives.  Here‘s his mother with President Eisenhower on a postwar visit.  He hopes to keep those strong ties alive with America by overseeing the museum which honors the airborne and houses the relics from the American operation, including a C-47. 

We discovered that need to keep a strong connection with the United States extends across Normandy.  Here at the Caen Memorial, you‘ll find these, remnants of the twin towers. 

CHRISTINE DE JEUR, CAEN MEMORIAL MUSEUM:  This is a solidarity with all the Americans.  And you know at the Caen Memorial, when it happened, we asked the people to send the messages to the Americans.  And we received more than 20,000 messages from Normans and French people telling that, you saved us in 1944, and nowadays, we thought about you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The Caen Memorial was one of the few places whose request for pieces of the towers was granted by Mayor Giuliani. 

DE JEUR:  Certainly, certain, a lot of Normans do feel a lot of friendship for Americans and a lot of gratitude as well.  They do think that thanks to the Americans and the British and the Canadians, they are free today. 

SCARBOROUGH:  A few miles west of here, a German cemetery remembers those troops who died at Normandy fighting for their country.  Now, the mood at that final resting place is grim.  The memorial is set in black stone.  And many of those buried there are 14- and 15-year-old boys, next to middle-aged men. 

For the first time since the fall of Hitler, Germans leaders have been invited to join the allies in remembering all of those who gave their lives on D-Day. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Next, I‘m going to be joined by an author who is convinced that the battle fought here on D-Day and won by many of those buried behind me was one of the most important battles ever fought.  He and NBC military analyst General Wayne Downing will join with me to talk about the epic battle we may be discussing for centuries. 


SCARBOROUGH:  For the past 60 years, historians have been debating the impact of D-Day and the landings at Normandy.  The question is, will it be remembered centuries from now as one of the epic battles of all time? 

I‘m joined by NBC military analyst General Wayne Downing.  And also, we have Joe Balkoski.  He is the author of “Omaha Beach.”

Let me begin with you, Joe.

You just wrote an amazing book on this battle, on this landing.  Is it possible to overstate the importance of the D-Day invasion? 

JOE BALKOSKI, AUTHOR, “OMAHA BEACH”:  Well, given the perspective of 60 years and the way this invasion has come to symbolize the allied effort in World War II, it‘s difficult to overstate it now, but we do have to remember that, although in reality it was the greatest military operation of World War II, there were dozens of others, and you can never forget what happened in the Pacific, the Mediterranean and all of the other diverse operations that helped bring Germany to its downfall. 

But, that being said, D-Day has come to symbolize the whole monumental allied effort in World War II. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, General, I know, because my grandfather fought in the Pacific.  He was at Pearl Harbor on December 7.  And I‘m from Pensacola, Florida.  I know there are a lot of Navy guys out there saying, well, we had a lot of battles in the Pacific that were just as important, Iwo Jima.

But, really, this Normandy invasion was a linchpin to something much bigger.  I guess the question we need to ask tonight is, what would have happened if D-Day had failed?

RET. GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  That‘s exactly the question, Joe. 

If D-Day had failed, what would have happened?  Certainly, had we been pushed back into that sea, I mean, this entire invasion force, and Eisenhower had to withdraw them, that would have been a major not only material loss, but a tremendous psychological loss.  You have to remember, Russia was being bled almost white.  And they had suffered at that time probably seven to 10 million casualties. 

And they were crying for us to put the pressure on the Germans.  Had we not done that, Stalin might have looked at that entire relationship with Hitler a little bit differently.  The other thing I think we have to worry about, at that time, Hitler was developing some very sophisticated weapons.  He had the B-1 rockets that were already shooting.  He had the first ballistic missiles, the B-2s.


DOWNING:  Which were being launched on London.  He had an embryonic nuclear program and he had a jet aircraft program which came into being right at the end of the war, but which was actually devastating on the 8th Air Force. 

And you just think, had Normandy failed, we might have spread that war out another five, maybe 10 years.  Who knows what would have happened?  And so because of that, I think D-Day, Overlord, was a very, very big operation.  And I think, in the annals of history, it‘s going to go down that way. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Joe, you just wrote a book on Omaha Beach, obviously an extraordinarily important battle here.  The outcome of that battle wasn‘t assured, even after the first few hours, right? 


Within the first two to three hours, the battle was hinging on the initiative of very junior leaders pinned down on the beach.  And it was thanks to the initiative of these NCOs, young lieutenants, a couple of field-grade officers, that the battle was won.  But it was very hard-fought.  The casualties were extremely high, far higher than official U.S.  Army counts of the time implied. 

But nobody can deny that, at the end of the day, Omaha Beach was a military success. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, General, the most remarkable thing, reading books like this, studying up on D-Day, for me, the most remarkable thing about D-Day was the fact that, behind us, on bloody Omaha, it seemed like everything went wrong. 

DOWNING:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Twenty-eight of the 32 tanks that were supposed to come on shore sank. 

DOWNING:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The bombers overshot their targets, killed a lot of cows inland, but didn‘t soften up the Germans.  And yet, in the end, wasn‘t it the initiative of these NCOs, of these junior officers...

DOWNING:  Right.  Exactly. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... who took these confused young kids and said, it‘s time to charge up the hill. 

DOWNING:  Right.  No, Joe, that‘s exactly right. 

And it‘s a well-stated fact that the generals and the admirals make the great plans, and they make them as good as they can make them, but once the action starts, the plan goes out the window, and what you‘ve got to deal with is the hand that‘s sitting there in front of you.  That‘s what these people had to do.  And certainly, it was leadership at the very grassroots level.  It was squad leaders, platoon leaders. 

You had a few heroic senior officers.  You heard General Cota, the assistant division commander of the 29th Division.  You had the regimental commander of the 16th Infantry, who were going up and down that beach grabbing people, trying to get things going.  And they got things going.  And had they not had that kind of leadership, this beachhead, Joe, Omaha, could have failed. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Joe, they land at 6:30.  By 8:30, 9:00 in the morning, that same morning, the Germans are thinking, hey, they whipped us on Omaha.  And Omar Bradley said after the battle, after the fact, that, in fact, he thought the battle was lost on Omaha.  What turned the tide? 

BALKOSKI:  What turned the tide was the initiative of the leadership on the beach, the men who came to the conclusion, as General Cota said, that, if you wish to leave, you need to get off this beach.  The Germans had every inch of this beach zeroed in with indirect weapons, mortars. 

They were picking on clumps of men that they could observe from the bluff behind the beach, like we‘re on right now, and they could call fire on those men within seconds, highly accurate.  And General Cota and Colonel Taylor, as General Downing mentioned, provided the inspiration for anybody who needed to heed that advice to get up and move.  And getting up and move was an almost equally dangerous thing to do. 

And yet, it was the wiser course of action.  And, ultimately, the men on the beach who were pinned on that shingle saw the light of day. 


General, tell me, how do you train young kids—and that‘s basically what they were back then—how do you train them now to do what so many NCOs were telling them to do, which is, get up?  My favorite quote:  There are two type of men on the beach, those that are dead and those who are going to be dead if they stay on the beach. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Charge into those guns, take them down.  How do you train American kids or allies to do that? 

DOWNING:  Joe, you do it today the same way they did it back then.  You must train people under stress.  You‘ve got to train them under pressure.  You‘ve got to train them when they‘re tired.  And that‘s when they learn the lessons that are going to take them forward, forward in battle. 

And that‘s why leadership is so important, because it takes leadership to push these soldiers.  There were some leaders, Joe, who didn‘t train their people properly.  And because of that, because they did not get that first-class training, they initially failed in combat.  We had two division commanders relieved in the first 2 ½ weeks here on Normandy because the division was not ready for combat. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, General, we want to talk about that when we come back. 

General, Joe, we‘ll be right back when MSNBC‘s continuing coverage of the 60th anniversary of D-Day continues.


SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re back with MSNBC‘s continuing coverage of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.  We‘re joined once again by NBC military analyst General Wayne Downing and the author of Omaha Beach, Joe Balkoski. 

Now, the thing that I find remarkable is, just talking to you two, is that this wasn‘t a trained Army, I mean, a solid Army that had seen warfare.  They were pretty green, weren‘t they? 

DOWNING:  This was a green Army, Joe.  There were 15 assaults regiments that came into Normandy.  Only three of those regiments had seen combat before.  And so it‘s a real tribute to their leadership and their training that they performed the way they did. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Joe, how did they do that? 

BALKOSKI:  They did it because they retained supreme confidence in their abilities and the training was so intense that that confidence was very well-founded.  And the confidence filtered down from Ike all the way down to the greenest private.  And it was proven valid on D-Day. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thanks so much, Joe.  Thank you, General.  We greatly appreciate it. 

DOWNING:  Thanks, Joe.  Great.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, 60 years later, it is almost impossible to comprehend the challenges that were faced by our troops on D-Day. 


SCARBOROUGH (voice-over):  The task before them was so difficult that 750 men were killed and another 300 wounded in a rehearsal for Operation Overlord.  Even Eisenhower had his doubts.  As allied troops headed toward the teeth of Hitler‘s Atlantic wall, Ike drafted a statement taking full responsibility for the allies‘ loss on D-Day. 

But 60 years later, the eyes of America and the world are focusing again on these beaches to celebrate the triumph of America and its allies at Normandy and to honor those who perished fighting for the freedoms that too many take for granted today. 

Walking among these aging heroes, we forget, we forget that the fate of the world was left in their hands or that, but for a handful of heroes on Omaha Beach, that battle and the world we live in today could have been radically different.  We can never really repay them for all that they did for us on this sacred ground, but we can gather to remember the finest hour that was ever produced by America‘s greatest generation. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Now, make sure you‘re with us tomorrow night, because we‘re going to have more on the 60th celebration of the D-Day invasion.  We‘re going to be joined by a group of D-Day veterans and they‘re going to take us on a special journey.  We‘re also going to retrace the trip they took 60 years ago in a SCARBOROUGH exclusive.  And I‘m going to visit a farm where the 82nd Airborne landed in the earliest hours of D-Day. 

From Normandy, I‘m Joe Scarborough.  We‘ll see you tomorrow night. 


Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.


Discussion comments