Ten years ago I fulfilled a bucket list item and visited the Normand beaches with my family. Another member of my family, my Uncle Angelo, had visited those same beaches 75 years ago today. He was an enlisted soldier in the US Army and took part in the Normand Invasion on D-Day.
“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
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…” (Excerpt from General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Order of the Day 1944)
If you have never visited the northern coast of France, I highly recommend doing so before memories begin to fade and a new generation decides to whitewash history. To stand on Omaha Beach and look around is awe inspiring and humbling. From the waterline you can look left, right and center and still see the remnants of Nazi bunkers that contained 80mm cannons and 50 calibre machine gunners. Anyone who landed on the beach that day was greeted by enfilade fire that took the lives of over 12,000 men.
Today, you’ll hear, read and watch quite a bit about the D-Day invasion as it is the 75 Anniversary of the Allied landing. There will be stories about valor detailing the bravery and accomplishments of the 12 Medal of Honor recipients, the 101st Airborne, the Big Red 1 and others. What you may not hear much about are the engineers and scientists whose innovations enabled victory.
I’ve always told my students that there are only two types of people in startups - those who make things and those who sell things and all others are overhead.
As with startups, D-Day was a success due to the efforts of those who made things. It was engineers who showed up on June 5th before the invasion, cleared mines and documented the routes for ships and amphibious landing craft to navigate their way to the beaches. Engineers who designed many special purpose amphibious fighting vehicles and weapons that would be employed to bust through enemy lines. Engineers whose quick thinking repurposed steel hedgehogs that were placed on the beaches by the Nazis to prevent tanks and landing craft from making landfall into steel rakes that would enable tanks to clear the hedgerows enabling soldiers to advance inland. Engineers who designed and built temporary portable harbors (Mulberry Harbors) that would allow the Allies to safely land millions of tons of supplies, men and vehicles that would be used to successfully end the war in Europe. I could go on for pages documenting the extraordinary contributions of the scientific community in preparation for and on the day of battle.
It is not my intent to minimize the bravery and sacrifice of the more than 250,000 soldiers who fought over whelming fire and enemy defenses on that fateful day 75 years ago. My only objective is to give a shout out to the often overlooked innovators and scientists who made victory possible.