Posted on | June 6, 2014 | 47 Comments
Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and Americans rightly take pride in the heroic courage of our troops who saw that historic day’s bloodiest fighting on Omaha Beach. However, one of my favorite stories of D-Day — vividly told in Cornelius Ryan’s classic The Longest Day — is of the British glider troops who captured what became known as “Pegasus Bridge” across the Caen Canal near the village of Ouistreham.
Capturing and holding the bridge was essential to establishing the left flank of the Allied invasion, and this crucial mission was assigned to a mere 181 men, a company of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry led by Major John Howard. The glider assault by the “Ox and Bucks” was the opening attack of the invasion and took place right after midnight. It took them just 10 minutes to capture the bridge from the surprised Germans, and Major Howard’s command lost only one soldier in the fight — Lieutenant Den Brotheridge, who thus became the first Allied soldier killed on D-Day.
The order given to Major Howard was to “hold until relieved,” to defend his position until his men were reinforced by troops moving south and east from Sword Beach. The 1962 film version of The Longest Day gave a “mystic portrayal” of the Ox and Bucks’ mission, which Major Howard laughed off as “sentimental rubbish.”
True heroes seldom acknowledge the glory of their accomplishments, considering it merely the performance of duty.