The Red Poppy Express

Murray Pratt Blog, Life Leave a Comment

It is said that General Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army of the Pacific theatre during WWII, had disdain for Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, the general who would go on to eventually to be become the 34th President of the United States from 1953-1961.

While MacArthur was a man of great theatre and persona (corncob pipe), a man who during the Korean War ignored President Harry Truman’s orders and was thus fired, Eisenhower was more so a technician or a bureaucrat than a leader of the common soldier.

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

For every fighting man in the US Army in WWII, it was estimated that there were 7 people managing the support and logistics for this frontline soldier.

Eisenhower, who led the Allied forces to the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy – Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah, Omaha – on June 6th, 1944 alloyed the a combined force of:

  • 6,939 naval vessels
  • 11,590 aircraft
  • 156,00 allied troops

Within four days, 326,000 troops, and 106,428 tons of supplies had landed on the beaches of Normandy – owing to the sacrifice of some 4,413 allied soldiers who died that day. There were especially heavy losses at the American landing on Omaha, something the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ captured with shocking reality.

No matter how wonderful an orator you are, or how great you look in your outfit, or how huge your persona, when you have to coalesce the men and materials of this undertaking, you better be a logistics expert. And ‘Ike’ was the man to do it.

There are logistics…and there are LOGISTICS.

With its thrust into Europe, the Allies gained ground quickly in a number of areas. One of the key pieces of this rapid advance, an advance that would see the end of the Nazi regime and the war in Europe some 10 months later, was a trucking convoy system called ‘The Red Ball Express.’ It was called the ‘Red Ball Express’ because all the trucks were stamped with Red Balls and would follow a route demarcated with Red Balls on signs.

With its genesis from the Sante Fe Railroad in the late 1800’s, the ‘Red Ball Service’ was an express route used solely for military purposes and not for civilian purposes. Through 5,958 vehicles, it delivered 12,500 tons of supplies to 28 Allied Divisions in Europe each and every day.

It also means that there were 5,958 truck drivers who served each and every day in the Allied operations in Europe. And they did this under very risky circumstances as the German air force, the Luftwaffe, would strafe the convoys to disrupt Allied supply lines. Many of these drivers lost their lives delivering supplies to the front lines. They too gave the ultimate sacrifice to their countries.

On Juno Beach, the place where the Canadian army landed on D-Day in 1944, my uncle, Roy Armstrong, landed as part of the British contingent. He was 25 years old, and was an ambulance driver for the Regina Rifles. He was also the bugler for his regiment! He went on to liberate Holland with the other Canadian forces, helping to forge a long fond bond between the two countries.

Roy passed this year at the age of 96, living most appropriately a long and happy life with his family in Saskatchewan, Canada. He worked on the railroad and raised 3 kids with my aunt Zoie. My memories of him are vivid – family gatherings in the basement of his home where he and his buddies from the war and from the railway would play music, he on the trumpet. He was quick with a smile, and would always tell a story, toothpick in his mouth and a glint in his eye. His overall demeanour never betrayed some of the carnage and human suffering he must have seen in his life. It’s something I marvel about now.

Tomorrow is November 11th- Remembrance Day in Canada, and Veterans Day in the United States. The day was established at the end of the First World War to commemorate the sacrifice of those who served, and those who lost their lives, in the wars fought by our nations.

Take a couple of minutes today, if you will, to remember those who fell during the wars, especially on   D-Day, and those who served and survived and went on to help build a better society, like my uncle Roy. Take a couple of minutes to remember those people, those who drove a truck and served, or perished, in the service of a noble cause, those who fought for the peace and stability that we enjoy today.

Lest We Forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– John McCrae

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