WASHINGTON--The success of D-Day was the result of the cooperation among the wartime allies, and that is one of the lessons from Operation Overlord that still resounds today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford spent the 75th D-Day anniversary June 6 paying respects to those wartime allies, meeting British, Canadian, Dutch and Norwegian D-Day veterans at ceremonies in Bayeux and Juno Beach, France.
The 1944 landings at Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword beaches and in drop zones in the area involved service members from 14 allied countries. The United States alone lost more than 6,000 service members that fateful day, but the allies had made the first breach in Hitler's Atlantic Wall.
In an interview in London, Dunford said watching the veterans placing memorial wreaths at the British memorial in the Bayeaux graveyard was "particularly powerful." The men — now in the mid-90s — were helping each other walk to the memorial and place their remembrances. "You could see how meaningful it was for them to be back," the chairman said. "You could see how close those guys were to each other yesterday."
The veterans were the most important aspect of the ceremonies, he said, noting that it is important to recognize them for what they did 75 years ago. It also is important to recognize what it took to bring the whole operation together, he added, because alliance warfare is hard work, and there can be many pitfalls.
"The 75th anniversary ceremonies were a good reminder of the fact that we assume that we are never going to be at war without allies, without partners," Dunford said.
Developing and sustaining those relationships in peacetime is important, the general said. One message from the 75th anniversary observance, he said, is that allies and partners "have to emphasize those areas where we have common ground and worry less about areas where we have divergence."
D-Day should remind people that nations with common values can come together to advance their interests despite any differences, Dunford said, pointing out that all of the nations involved in the planning of Operation Overlord had a common interest in defeating Nazi Germany. "Frankly, if you study the relationship between the British chiefs of staff and the U.S. chiefs of staff, it wasn't friction-free — there was plenty of friction in the process, there was plenty of divergence of opinion." he said. "We were separated in some cases by a common language. There were cultural issues. There were differences in tactics, techniques and procedures. But at the end of the day, they knew they had to put all of that aside to achieve a common objective."
Nations that have common values are going to find themselves required to defend those values, the general said. "The foundation of our ability to do that is really in peacetime," he said. "There were a lot of lessons learned the hard way in World War II just because of the extraordinary change that occurred in military doctrine."
But practice and exercises and dialogues among allies in peacetime mitigate some of those challenges, the chairman said, and this is why today the United States works with nations around the world to focus on interoperability and developing strategies. The United States works with close allies to develop common tactics, techniques and procedures in peacetime.
"All of this is to mitigate the challenges in execution," Dunford said. "It won't be without challenges. There'll be friction, there'll be things we don't expect, there is no question about that. But the more training you do, the more interoperability you have, the closer your personal relationships are, the common understanding you have through the planning process, the more effective you will be on day one."
Doing that also has a deterrent effect of its own, he noted, as demonstrating a capability may convince possible adversaries not to challenge the capability.
The character of war has changed, but Normandy was a good reminder of the human factors of war that haven’t changed, Dunford said.
"All those ships, all those planes, the bombardment that took place, all those weapon systems they had available — had those individual soldiers not done what they had to do to get off the beach, had the engineers not had extraordinary courage to find a way to reduce the obstacles, had every soldier not focused on how to do their jobs, they would have been unsuccessful," he said. "The same human factors that allowed them to be successful at Normandy are the same human factors we've seen at work through 18-19 years of war. It's about individuals demonstrating courage, looking out for the men and women on their left and right, and doing what has to be done."
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