Skip to main content

History professor’s reflections on D-Day

On the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the College of Liberal Arts sat down with Department of History Professor Joseph Dawson to discuss the day's significance.

by Haley Venglar ’19

June 6, 1944—D-Day— is the day the Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, thus beginning the emancipation of Western Europe from Nazi control during World War II.

Today, we remember D-Day as the largest amphibious military operation in history with 6,000 landing crafts, ships, and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops. It is a day that has become symbolic of great moments in American military history—a turning point in a war against tyranny and evil.

“It’s important to remember that if the operation would not have been a success, our reality today would most likely look a lot different than it does right now,” said Joseph Dawson, a professor in the Department of History. “The events that took place that day also reinforced the idea that our military was a force to be reckoned with.”

And in today’s divisive political climate, it is especially important to take a day to contemplate one of the many times Americans came together and achieved greatness.

Dawson notes that General Earl Rudder, a name that is almost synonymous with Texas A&M University, played a role in this historic day.

“Rudder’s duty was what I like to think of as ‘turning the key in the lock’ of German-held France and destroying the cannons that would have caused catastrophic casualties,” Dawson said.

Rudder led a team of soldiers up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on a mission to destroy German cannons. According to Dawson, this seemingly impossible mission was a success. When Rudder and his men reached the top of the cliffs and destroyed the cannons, it immediately flipped the fate for hundreds of soldiers.

Dawson served in the Army and came to A&M in 1985. He researches the American military in the 19th century, and served as the director of A&M’s Military Studies Institute for 14 years.  He is part of the elite, world-class faculty in the College of Liberal Arts, a college that critically examines the human condition.

“Studying history helps each person put both past events and recent circumstances into context and perspective,” Dawson said. “Such reflection is important for social, political, economic, diplomatic, and cultural awareness, but can be especially important for military matters, which often have multiple social consequences.”