Monday, June 06, 2016

V for Victory

The French poet, Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), never dreamed of the role he would play in a great drama that would take place exactly 100 years after his birth.  Seventy-two years ago today, the French Underground tensely awaited the great signal that the Allied invasion of Normandy -- the greatest amphibious operation in history -- was immanent.  This signal was the first stanza of Verlaine's poem, Chanson d'automne, broadcast over the radio.  

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

The long sobs
Of the violins
Of autumn
Wound my heart
With a languor

All suffocating
And pale when
The hour strikes
I remember
The old days
And weep

And I go away
In the ill wind
that carries me off
This side and beyond
Like the
Dead leaf.

"Believe me, Lang, the first twenty-four hours of the invasion will be decisive...the fate of Germany depends on the outcome...for the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day."
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to his aide, Capt. Hellmuth Lang, April 22, 1944

From Part One, Chapter 13 of The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan (available, by the way, on Kindle):

Now Eisenhower stood watching as the planes trundled down the runways and lifted slowly into the air.  One by one they followed each other into the darkness.  Above the field, they circled as they assembled into formation.  Eisenhower, his hands deep in his pockets, gazed up into the night sky.  As the huge formation of planes roared one last time over the field and headed toward France, NBC's Red Mueller looked at the Supreme Commander.  Eisenhower's eyes were filled with tears.

Minutes later, in the Channel, the men of the invasion fleet heard the roar of the planes.  It grew louder by the second, and then wave after wave passed overhead.  The formation took a long time to pass.  Then the thunder of their engines began to fade.  On the bridge of the U.S.S. Herndon, Lieutenant Bartow Farr, the watch officers and NEA's war correspondent, Tom Wolf, gazed up into the darkness.  Nobody could say a word.  And then as the last formation flew over, an amber light blinked down through the clouds on the fleet below.  Slowly it flashed out in Morse code three dots and a dash: V for Victory.

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