June 6th has become known simply as “D-Day” to commemorate allied forces famously storming the beaches of Normandy, France to kick off Operation Overlord. At the time of the operation, in 1944, the Nazis held most of Western Europe, and D-Day was the beginning of the allies invasion into Europe and the beginning of the end for Hitler.
Thousands of Americans became martyrs that fateful day in 1944, displaying incredible courage against enormous odds. But nearly 200 years earlier, on the very same day, one of the first American heroes was born.
As Tara Ross explains on her Facebook page, today marks the birthday of America’s first spy: Nathan Hale.
Hale was a man of deep faith, likely would’ve become a minister if he hadn’t believed so deeply in the cause of freedom. Most are familiar with his alleged famous last words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” But not everyone knows the details surrounding his actions leading up to his eventual capture and execution at the tender age of just 21.
Hale was attempting to help George Washington’s army, then fighting a series of battles in and around New York. Americans had lost the Battle of Long Island in August 1776, but then they’d made a miraculous middle-of-the-night escape across the East River. A few weeks later, they were driven from New York. Fortunately, they won a much-needed victory at Harlem Heights not too long after that.
Washington was desperate for information about the British. He asked Lt. Colonel Thomas Knowlton to help him recruit volunteers. He needed spies! Knowlton turned to his Rangers for help. Only one person stepped forward: a young Captain under Knowlton’s command, Nathan Hale.
Remember, this is a 21 year old. Something often lost in translation when reading history, whether it be from June 6th, 1944 or September 1776, is that some of the bravest and most noble people in American history were so young. Sadly, most Americans today remember being 21 because it’s the year they could drink alcohol legally for the first time. A sure sign that the generations before us fighting for freedom and comfort definitely succeeded.
Hale didn’t have any experience in espionage, Ross reports, and wasn’t able to write in code. So, when he was caught it was painfully obvious what he had done. Despite mistreatment, Hale surprised witnesses with his calm and dignified demeanor even as he faced death.
Reportedly, Hale was denied both a Bible and a minister before he was executed on September 22. He was nevertheless described as “calm.” He “bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions…” Another British soldier gave a similar description of Hale’s final moments. Frederick Mackenzie said that Hale “behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good officer to obey any orders given him by his Commander in Chief; and desired the spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.”
A British officer allegedly was sent to General Washington to report of Hale’s death, and it was then those famous last words were reported.
June 6th is a day we will forever remember for the courageous actions of our armed forces of D-Day, but we can also remember one of America’s first war heroes was also born on this day.
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God bless all our veterans!