Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Sports Bridge to Football Season

Today marks the beginning of the 2014 World Cup. And, I'm excited for it! It's the best soccer (futbol) you're going to see at any time...truly great athletes playing a compelling game.

But, the World Cup also marks the start of what I'll call my own "sports bridge to football."

Since I'm not a big baseball or golf fan the June-late August period is often devoid of anything interesting to in the world of sports. But this year there are three things I think will do the trick to get me from now to that magical time of the year called "football season."

Perhaps you may find interest in these events too:

First up is indeed the World Cup - mid-June to mid-July. You can bet I'll be rooting for the USA as my #1 teem to support, but the odds are they won't go far. So, I've picked a few backup teams to root for that might do better. First, England. I've got English heritage, English friends and English players are among the best in the world. After that, I like Chile (fast paced offensive style), Netherlands (just like the country) and Uruguay (liked how they played last time).

Next up is the Tour de France - July. This is a highly compelling event for me. The team aspect, the individual races (overall leader, sprint champ, king of the mountains), scenery, strategy and sheer endurance make this a wonderful athletic event to watch. Has it been marred by doping scandal in the recent past? Yes. But, so has baseball with steroids. Like baseball, cycling has cleaned up its act and what you're seeing is (as far as anyone can tell) legit. And I love it. I'll be watching. I'll be rooting for any American who can get himself into the top 5 overall (TJ Vangardren may be the guy) and some favorites (Sagan for sprint points, Cavendish for sprint finishes, Jens Voigt...he's 40-something and still going strong...and a few others).

As a kicker, I'll be doing the Seattle to Portland (STP) bike ride during the Tour. So, I'll be participating in a cycling event as well as watching one on TV.

Sounders FC - July onward. Yes, more soccer. It's my local MLS club and they feature a great record and stars (Dempsey, Yedlin, Martins, Neagle and Alonzo to name a few). This is a fun club to watch and I think they have a real shot of going far this season. I'll be watching them on TV and also attending a home match Aug. 30 - the same day college football kicks off.

So, that'll be the end of the bridge. I'll be safely across the chasm and into the fat of my own annual sports schedule rooting for my Oregon Ducks and Seattle Seahawks.

And hey, if the Seattle Mariners somehow emerge after June above .500 I may take some interest in them too. I'm on record as being an out-and-out fair weather fan when it comes to the Ms. If or when they are good (not often) I'll take interest.

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day Anniversary Post #3: A Common Misconception About the Invasion

Here is my third and final post on this 70th Anniversary of D-Day.

My first post of the day was a "now and then" photo comparison using the historic pictures and ones I took myself when I visited Normandy in 1994. The other is a photo of a few D-Day related items I possess.

One misconception I think many people, particularly in the west, have is that the opening of the western front with the D-Day invasion of France is THE single event that sealed Hitler's fate.

Yes, D-Day and the ensuing liberation of France and other western European nations by US, British and other Allied nations were a monumental and profoundly important in terms of winning the war. They were vital and without them the war would likely have come out much different - and not necessarily in a good way. But, at the same time they weren't the ONLY thing that cast the Allies on the inevitable path of victory over the Nazi regime.

More specifically, Hitler's ego-maniachle invasion of the Soviet Union, subsequent defeat at Moscow and Stalingrad and steady drubbing by the Red Army were equally important to the outcome of the war.


Well, by1941, Hitler had conquered  all of western Europe and north Africa while also holding the Soviet Union out of the war with a non-aggression pact he signed with Stalin. This would have left Germany free to pour all its military resources into things like conquering the UK, oil rich areas like Iran and expanding its hold in Africa.

But, Hitler decided to break his non-aggression pact with the USSR and invade its territory - believing his armies could not be defeated and he would put down the Russians before turning to the rest of the world. 

Guess what? His armies were not invincible.

Indeed, after initially conceding a lot of territory to the Germans, the Red Army stiffened to defeat them at Stalingrad and turned the tide of the war in the eastern front. At the cost of millions of lives.

So how does this relate to D-Day?

Primarily it is that by diverting the bulk of his forces to the long and costly invasion of Russia instead of fortifying the west, Hitler left France far more susceptible to invasion. Imagine if the German forces deployed in Russia were instead massed in France and Belgium. Wow. D-Day may have been a disaster.

D-Day Anniversary Post #2: D-Day Items

As a second post in honor of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, I thought I'd post a picture of some D-Day related items I possess.

Below is the picture and below that a description of the items in it...

D-Day Related Items (C) Marc Osborn

Helmet. In the middle on top of the books is a WWII-era U.S. tankers helmet. It is not vintage from the time, but is a 100% replica. Tankers landing on D-Day would have been wearing one of these. Sadly, most tanks and the men in them did not make it to the beach or much farther because pre-invasion Allied bombardment did not take out the heavy German guns on the beach.

Books. The helmet is sitting on two books by author Steven Ambrose about June 6, 1944. One is simply titled D-Day and gives an account of the invasion, primarily but not all, from the American point of view. The other book is called Pegasus Bridge. It tells the harrowing tale of British glider-borne troops who landed in the early morning hours behind enemy lines to take and hold a key bridge so troops coming in from the sea could move inland.

Rocks and Sand. These are actually from Omaha and Utah Beach respectively. I collected these on my visit to the two beaches in 1994. The taller, skinnier bottle contains sand from Omaha Beach. The other bottle has sand from Utah Beach in it. The rocks are from Omaha Beach.

Pouch and Patch. The pouch is vintage WWII era, although not used on D-Day in Normandy. It held first aid items and could be affixed to a soldier's belt. The patch is the insignia of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division. This division began its legend on D-Day by dropping behind enemy lines at night and proceeding the seaborne assault to capture and hold key towns, bridges and crossroads behind the invasion beaches.

Concrete Chip. This is an actual chip from Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" in Normandy.

D-Day 70th Anniversary Post #1: My Own Now-And-Then Photo Comparison

Today marks the 70th anniversary for for Allied D-Day landings in Normandy, France. Below I've marked the occasion by posting a "then and now" series of photographs. The "then" shots are historic photos taken by war correspondents. The "now" pictures were taken by me in the fall of 1994 when I visited a number of sites where the landings took place, along with other locations around France.

You can see a bigger set of pictures of my visit to D-Day locations from that trip by clicking HERE.

This was one of two beaches where American forces landed. It's also the place where the fiercest resistance came from the Germans that day, making the beach's unfortunate nickname "bloody Omaha."

First below is a historic shot taken on the day of the invasion by a photographer at the back of one of the landing craft. You can see the soldiers wading ashore into the carnage.

Below that is a picture I took standing at the water's edge on Omaha beach in 1994.

Omaha Beach (C) Marc Osborn

Between the two pictures, you can see how far it was through the water and across the beach to some relative safety of a sea wall and vegetation. You can also see how looming and dangerous the ridge overlooking the beach is. From there, the Germans had a perfect position to shoot down on the Americans. Through their determination, creativity and sheer guts...the U.S. soldiers worked their way up and around the emplacements and slowly, painfully knocked them out over the course of the day. Having paid a high price in lives, however, the US Army took Omaha Beach in one of the most epic days of battle ever.

This was the other major beach where Americans landed. Resistance here was lighter, but by no means non-existent. Ultimately, the Americans took Utah and moved inland earlier than their comrades over at Omaha.

First below is a historic picture showing some U.S. soldiers on Utah Beach as something blows up down by the water's edge at what appears to be a low tide.

The next picture is a shot I took while standing on Utah Beach in 1994 from a similar perspective. The tide is a bit farther in on this one, but you can see the beach looks very similar.

Utah Beach (C) Marc Osborn

Point Du Hoc was where American Rangers landed on a rocky beach, scaled a sheer cliff face and defeated the Germans defending that position. The Rangers' mission was to knock out large guns that resided there and could easily fire down onto Omaha Beach. A monumental task to be sure...and they did it.

The first picture below is a historic picture of Point Du Hoc. You can see the point where the Rangers landed and at the far right of this picture...just where the one rocky point meets up with the rest of the coastline.

The second picture is one I took at Point Du Hoc in 1994. The monument you see towards the right of the picture is where the Rangers crested the bluff as they climbed and fought their way to victory.

Point Du Hoc (C) Marc Osborn

Before the Americans, British and Canadians landed at their respective beaches, airborne troops from the UK landed in the middle of the night right next to this bridge and took it - securing a passage across a major canal for advancing Allied troops. It is now called "Pegasus Bridge" in honor of the 6th Division of the British Airborne who assaulted the span. Their insignia is of a flying horse or Pegasus.

The first two pictures - a historic one taken after the battle and my picture taken in 1994 - show the bridge from the side of the canal where the British troops landed in their gliders and began the fight to take the bridge.

The following two pictures show where the gliders landed. The historic shot looks from the location of the bridge back at the gliders. My picture from 1994 looks toward the bridge with the landing spots of the gliders off to the right signified with small markers.

Pegasus Bridge (C) Marc Osborn

Pegasus Bridge and Glider Landing Spots (C) Marc Osborn

This is a town behind the American beaches that U.S. paratroopers took as part of the invasion. The idea was to drop troops behind the beaches to take and secure towns, bridges, causeways and other vital territory so that the invading soldiers from the beach could quickly advance inland. While this is what happened, the paratroops did not all land where they were supposed to. Rather, they were scattered all over the place. However, as a testament to their bravery, training and toughness, groups of them came together here and there to take objectives in the wee hours of the morning and into the day.

Famously, in the confusion a contingent of U.S. paratroops were dropped directly onto the town of Sainte Mer Eglise. Now, the town WAS an objective, but dropping them directly into the town square was not the plan. The result was a lot of fighting immediately in the town, and unfortunately, a number of paratroopers killed before they even hit the ground. If you've ever seen the movie The Longest Day, you know the scene. That actually happened.

One incident in that action was one paratrooper landing on the church steeple and becoming stuck there during the fight below. This is also depicted in the movie. Anyway, because of that, the church in the town is what most people associate with D-Day.

Below is a historic picture of the town church. If you look closely you can see American soldiers creeping up along the low wall in the middle of the picture.

The next picture is one I took of the church when I visited the town in 1994. Because that year was the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings, there was a full sized dummy dressed as a U.S. paratrooper up on the top of the church, held there by his parachute as it hung on the roof line of the building.

Church in Sainte Mer Eglise (C) Marc Osborn

So there you have it. Some comparison pictures from "then" and, well, kinda "now"...or at least the modern era.

I was profoundly impressed with what I saw on my visit and in awe and thanks to each person who participated in that great invasion that day 70 years ago. Thank you for what you did.

NOTE: All color photos in this post were taken by Marc Osborn. Copyright for this pictures is owned by Marc Osborn and no use of any kind of these images is permitted without the prior written permission of Marc Osborn.