Today is by my personal estimation the anniversary of perhaps one of the most signifigant events in the twentieth century. Sixty Eight years ago today, men from all branches of the United States armed forces, Canadian armed forces, and British military teamed together in the English Channel to storm on to the beaches that lined the coast of France in an effort to restore freedom in Europe from the Nazi occupation. The formal name of the mission was called Operation Overlord, but the opening act of the battle is more commonly referred to in the United States today as “D-Day”. Up until this point, the German army marched on a bloody campaign that lasted nearly a decade throughout all of Europe almost completely unchecked.
The storming of the beaches was just the beginning, as from this point forward the Allied forces marched inland and little by little forced back the Nazi war machine, a miracle in and of itself. The operation lasted close to three months in which over two million troops representing the Allied nations fought off the Germans, leaving behind sixteen thousand Canadian dead and over twenty thousand American dead, another one hundred fifty thousand soldiers between the two were injured. Of the casualties, twenty thousand men were never accounted for . The Germans were pushed out of France and little by little with the Soviet Union fighting on the Northern European front, The Nazi empire was eventually toppled, restoring dignity and order to a continent that had been turned upside down by the theology of some truly evil men.
Of the Americans and Canadians that went over, many were teenagers going to fight for a country the length of an ocean away. The military they were facing was at the time much better equipped, and largely considered to be the most powerful military machine in history. Under equipped and under funded for much of the war campaign, had the Allies not succeeded in securing the continent, the world may look very different today.
Late owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe, was badly injured while fighting in France in 1944. While he owned the Leafs, he had encouraged any of the players on his club to fight for Canada in the war, which included centre Syl Apps and goaltender Turk Broda. If you get the chance to read Conn Smythe’s book, it is very apparent that in his heart he was for his Country before all else. It has become rather easy in modern history to take shots at an organization that started out on the plea of civic pride, but has since become somewhat of a laughing stock. Remember that while the Leafs today are not organizationally the same as they were when the world came unhinged, they still have a foundation that was built under Canadian Nationalism. They have not done much to be proud of lately, but the fact that every June the founder’s lasting NHL legacy is handed to the Most Valuable Player to his team in the playoffs should be reason to feel some pride as a fan of the blue and white. Only the Stanley Cup gets higher regard in the hockey world.
For the sacrifice that these men made a continent away in forcing back the most clearly defined evil in modern history, we give thanks, and we will truly never forget. Our world was in distress, and they answered with honor, dignity, and service.