To defeat Nazi Germany, Allied forces had to establish a second front in Western Europe, which required an invasion across the English Channel. The same body of water which had protected Great Britain from the German armies which had conquered Europe had to be crossed if Hitler and Nazi Germany were to be defeated. After years of planning, secrecy and deception, the Allies launched the invasion that would end the war in Europe.
Today — June 6, 2019 — we observe the 75th anniversary of the Allied landing on the beaches of Normandy. Despite weather that was far from ideal for the invasion, early on the morning of June 6, 1944, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower said “OK — we’ll go.”
There are many good reasons why we remember D-Day every year and particularly why we commemorate it on this 75th anniversary of that historic invasion.
D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history. As a result of the successful invasion on D-Day, the Allies were able to push on toward Germany and in less than a year (May 7, 1945) the war in Europe was over. The control that Germany had held over Western Europe since the days of Dunkirk was ended.
D-Day was a pivotal event. Within a year, Adolf Hitler — arguably the most evil man known to history — would be gone. A militaristic Germany with a vision and plan for 1,000 years of global dominance would be relegated to the history books. A Germany responsible for the Holocaust in which an estimated 12 million human beings were exploited and killed would have its crimes exposed to the world.
D-Day was a collective effort with more than 156,000 troops representing the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Poland and other Allied forces. Troops from countries that had been conquered by Nazi Germany were part of the effort to liberate Europe. The Allies brought 7,000 nautical vessels and 10,000 aircraft to the fight which occurred over 50 miles of beaches now known to history as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
The first wave of landing forces suffered terrible losses; but with grit, perseverance and courage the Allies controlled all five beaches by the end of the day. Allied fatalities on D-Day are estimated to be more than 4,000 with 200,000 casualties over the course of the campaign. The exact number of killed will never be known, but work continues to identify every service person who died in that invasion.
“The mission was to win a world war against Hitler, not to keep records that would satisfy peacetime researchers some 75 years later,” said John Long of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.
An important part of the remembrance of D-Day is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, which was featured in the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” It contains the graves of more than 9,380 American dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. It is quiet, peaceful and beautiful, a place that every American who appreciates World War II history should visit. Rows and rows of identical grave markers mark the final resting place of these warriors.
In the chaos of war some participants lose their identity. This cemetery acknowledges 307 of these individuals with an inscription which reads, “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms, known but to God.” The names of 1,557 soldiers listed as missing in action can be found in the cemetery’s “Garden of the Missing.”
We owe a great debt to all of the veterans who served in World War II. The service men and women who won World War II number over 16 million, less than 500,000 are still with us as time and age takes its toll. Less than 50 D-Day veterans were expected to visit Normandy for this 75th anniversary. The men and women who fought in World War II did so to rid the world of terrible evils. Hopefully our generation, as well as future generations, will protect democracy and individual freedoms with similar tenacity.