Personal and political: Two aspects of D-Day, 75 years later
This year the European imperialist leaders, with U.S. president #45 as guest of honor, made a point of celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Allied landing at Normandy on June 6, 1944, D-Day. They allegedly were honoring the troops who died in that battle, which contributed — though much less than they’d like us to believe — to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
We’ll get to that later. Buzz about D-Day always reminds me of a good comrade in the class struggle, “Richie” to his friends, who in June 1944 was paratrooper PFC Fayette O. Richardson.
Richie was hardly out of his teens when he jumped into France on the night before the Allied landing at Normandy. He was in the 82nd Airborne Division, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment — pathfinders, who entered German-controlled air space under heavy anti-aircraft fire to light beacons for the invasion force.
Richardson survived, luckier than the many young men whose parachutes and bodies were shredded by German machine-gun fire. He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, one of the biggest battles as German troops waged their last desperate offensive on the Western Front.
Richie spent a year recovering from his war experience, working his way around the country, picking fruit to earn enough to get by. When we first met in 1964, he was a schoolteacher and a committed fighter for the working class — worldwide.
Richie’s war record made him an ideal anti-war fighter. He was the keynote speaker at a mass rally in Union Square in February 1965 organized by Youth Against War & Fascism to protest President Lyndon Johnson sending combat troops to Vietnam.
Reactionary pro-war groups called anti-war people “cowards.” Richie threw that right back in their face.
In January 1968 Richie took on an assignment that became a vital contribution to the class and anti-imperialist struggle. He assumed responsibility for editing The Bond, which over the next few years became the best-read newspaper of protest for the rapidly growing resistance movement of soldiers, sailors, marines, air troops and GIs of all types during the Vietnam War.
The Bond was the monthly newspaper of the American Servicemen’s Union. Under Richardson’s editorship, tens of thousands of copies each month were mailed out and passed hand-to-hand by GIs all over the world, bringing an anti-war and anti-racist message and mobilizing them against the dictatorial chain of command.
The Vietnamese finally liberated the south of their country in 1975. With his editorial and artistic skills, Richie made a concrete contribution any working-class activist could be proud of. He was one of those many heroes who helped defeat U.S. imperialism in Southeast Asia.
D-Day and World War II
The imperialist leaders in France who this June 6 tried to take credit for defeating Nazi Germany made a point of not inviting the president of Russia to the ceremony.
It’s easy to understand why. It would have been a reminder that the Soviet Union’s contribution to the defeat of German imperialism was so much greater than what all the other Allied forces did together. Even though capitalist Russia is not the Soviet Union, the propaganda offensive this year to ignore history would have appeared ridiculous.
Consider this: In the 1944 invasion of Normandy, some 10,000 Allied troops died, including 6,000 U.S. troops. Bad enough. In battles on the Eastern Front, in Stalingrad, Moscow, Minsk, millions of troops faced each other and hundreds of thousands died on both sides in many big battles.
The USSR had appealed since 1942 to its U.S. and British allies to open a Second Front in the West. Instead, the imperialist leaders waited, hoping the German Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red Army would destroy each other. By the spring of 1944, however, the Red Army was marching westward as millions of German soldiers retreated.
Worried that the Red Army might occupy all of Germany and even liberate France, London and Washington finally opted for the Normandy invasion. The Red Army finally reached Berlin on May 8, 1945, and hung the Red Flag from the Reichstag’s ruins.
As the war ended, the U.S. had 11 million troops in Europe and the Pacific. The U.S. rulers possessed the atomic bomb and wanted to use those troops against the Soviet Union and the revolutionary movement in Asia. The troops, however, wanted to come home.
Richardson wrote in the 1967 pamphlet, “GI Handbook on Military Justice,” about that time: “Thousands of GIs marched through the streets of European cities after the war had ended. The Brass [officers] still wanted to hold them. The GIs demanded they be shipped home.
“These organized demonstrations also occurred in the Pacific area. The demands of the soldiers were supported by the mass sentiment at home.
“They were shipped home.”
Catalinotto, who was circulation manager of The Bond, is author of the book “Turn the Guns Around: Mutinies, Soldier Revolts and Revolutions.”