On the morning of Aug. 7, 1941, the heavy cruiser USS Augusta dropped anchor in Placentia Bay, Argentia, Newfoundland.
On board was U.S. President and Commander in Chief Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Two days later, the Battleship HMS Prince of Wales arrived with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. While the two men had been corresponding and conversing via phone for almost two years, this would be their first personal meeting. Roosevelt knew it was only a matter of time before the United States would be forced to engage and so it was here that the leaders of the world’s two great democracies sat down to discuss the strategies and goals of what they both knew was inevitably to come.
By the evening of Aug. 12, the Augusta and Prince of Wales passed in review and set course for their respective ports. Two days later, on Aug. 14, a joint release press statement regarding their discussions was released to the world. Known today as The Atlantic Charter, it was a list of eight goals for the postwar world. Goals that the U.S. Department of State website describes as: “Both countries agreed not to seek territorial expansion; to seek the liberalization of international trade; to establish freedom of the seas, and international labor, economic, and welfare standards. Most importantly, both the United States and Great Britain were committed to supporting the restoration of self-governments for all countries that had been occupied during the war and allowing all peoples to choose their own form of government.”
From but only those two men and a four-day meeting in August 1941 would come the basic foundations of the United Nations that we know today.
By August 1942, the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle had led his raid on Tokyo, the Bataan Death March had killed untold thousands of Filipino and American POW's, the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway had turned the naval tide in the Pacific, and a year to the day of the USS Augusta anchoring in Placentia Bay, U.S. Marines launched their assault to take back Guadalcanal.
In less than a year after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were contained in the Pacific and the liberation of Europe and defeat of Nazi Germany could take full attention.
On Aug 17, 1942, a dozen Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 97th Bombardment Group, U.S. Army Air Forces 8th Bomber Command, took off from RAF Polebrook to attack the Nazi-occupied marshaling yards in Rouen, France. The countdown to D-Day was officially on.
Over the next 21 months, England would become the largest staging ground the world had ever known. By the time on the evening of June 5th, 1944, when Eisenhower gave the final “go” for the invasion of Normandy, over a million and a half American troops had taken up temporary housing in camps and airbases across the island.
The “GI invasion” gave way to the phrase of the locals at the time that Americans were “Overpaid, oversexed, overfed, and over here.”
A feeling totally understandable.
England had stood alone through Dunkirk and the Blitz and all of a sudden hundreds of thousands of Americans flush with cash — and brash with attitude — began taking up residence in their “proper” British Isle.
A culture clash was inevitable.
Yet for all their pre-D-Day resentment, when the news started coming back from the beaches, to each and every one there was nothing but respect for the Yanks they'd chided. And if I dare say, as the casualty counts came back from Omaha and Utah, a belated sorrow for not appreciating them just a bit more while they were there.
That “special relationship” that was started in a secret meeting between two leaders not even three years before took hold on a national scale on June 6, 1944.
While the advance in technology ensures that we'll never again see in person the massing of such power as the invasion force that breached Hitler's Atlantic Wall in 1944, it will also never equal the human connection between two countries that, no matter how much some may try, are inextricably linked through time immortal.
Or as Queen Elizabeth II (who saw it all as an 18-year-old girl on D-Day) said at only her third state dinner for a U.S. president on this past Monday:
“On that day — and on many occasions since — the armed forces of both our countries fought side-by-side to defend our cherished values of liberty and democracy. ... I paid my first state visit to your country at the invitation of President Eisenhower. As we face the new challenges of the 21st century, the anniversary of D-Day reminds us of all that our countries have achieved together. While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard-won peace.”
To which all I can say is God save the queen, and God bless the United States of America.
Geoff Caldwell lives in Joplin. He can be reached at email@example.com