SAN JOSE, Calif., June 6, 2015 – Today is the day that many all around the world remember as “D-Day,” and many will not easily forget those who sacrificed their lives on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Sadly, far too many of men and boys who hit the beaches on that day never made it back home; a great many lost their lives on that day.
For Americans born after 1960, it is difficult to completely comprehend a massive allied invasion encompassing sea, land and air forces in a military offensive that could determine the future of the Free World. Such a full-scale invasion can be intellectually grasped, but not normally comprehended due to the scale or scope of actual events.
A limited capacity to comprehend such an invasion hinders those who try to sense the reality of that moment. For most honest people, who depend upon second-hand stories, texts or Hollywood renditions of D-Day, it is difficult to fully comprehend this event. People normally trying to understand any type of subject often seek some familiar territory, some point of reference, but no comparable event has happened. Even MacArthur’s invasion of Inchun is not comparable. This event was by far the largest amphibious military invasion in world history.
For those who lived through that terrible, turbulent time, it may conjure up vivid memories. Yet, especially for those who survived the all-out onslaught against an entrenched and fortified enemy, it may never be forgotten. Nevertheless, what remains as important, and what should not be forgotten, is not the date of June 6, 1944, but what the day represents: the sacrifice of those of the “greatest generation” who served their country in the time of a horrendous war. It is definitely important to remember the men and boys who gave their lives that representative government may survive, and that other people in other lands would be able to live in freedom.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, unleashed the massive, cross-channel, frontal invasion of the German positions in Northern France. He had been a proponent of such a direct assault as early as 1942, but faced opposition from the British, who feared a re-run of the devastating trench warfare of World War I only 30 years before. Eisenhower’s ideas were finally accepted by the Allied command on Jan. 15, 1944. When he finally gave the orders to commence the attack, he revealed genuine hope for a victorious outcome:
“You will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely… The free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
This most critical assault was only the initial day of the Allied invasion against the German divisions. It represented the tip of the spear of a larger thrust more formally known as “Operation Overlord,” which was not just intended to liberate portions of occupied France. It also represented the initial attack of a more massive and prolonged onslaught against German forces that served to open up a western front in Europe as the last phase of a three-pronged thrust to push German troops back into Germany’s borders. It was the third-prong of the Allied attack after the taking of Rome and pushing up from the south in conjunction with the Russian onslaught on the Eastern Front.
D-Day represented the initial beach assault phase code-named “Operation Neptune,” which was an incredibly complex invasion effort against the entrenched Nazi military fortifications spread across 50 miles of French coastline at Normandy. Operation Neptune commenced shortly after midnight on June 6 when 10,000 Allied aircraft struck at German defenses, and thousands of paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines, before the dawn coastal landings of thousands upon thousands of men and boys. It was definitely dangerous and deadly. It was an act of desperation, but it was also an act of daring.
Success of “Operation Neptune” ultimately paved the way for the long-range goal of penetrating the heart of Germany and of breaking the Nazi military might. D-Day proved to be a pivotal moment in the fighting in Europe during World War II. The initial efforts to open this new front against the German stranglehold on most of Europe succeeded; yet it came at tremendous cost. By the end of the first day, more than 10,000 Allied soldiers had been killed or wounded. But on that day, the Allies were able to secure a foothold in French sand. Though the cost for the beachhead was high, taking the beaches enabled over 100,000 soldiers to begin their march across France.
Operation Neptune managed to crack the powerful Nazi grip on occupied France and open the gateway to move on and take down Adolf Hitler. By 1943, Hitler had taken over every nation in Europe except Great Britain, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden and Spain. Notably, without the cooperation of all the Allies on D-Day, the outcome of the war in Europe may have been much different. In looking back upon this dark time in human history, it is easy to be captured by the sheer magnitude of the death and destruction on a single day in time; yet one can only imagine what the horrendous reality of that world could have been had tyranny been victorious.
Obviously, the world is very different from what it was in June of 1944. It is a bit more calm and peaceful now than when it was embroiled in global conflagration. Perhaps the world would have become much worse if not for this bold and desperate, well-coordinated Allied effort on D-Day, which proved to be a decisive turning point in the war in Europe.
Yet, when one considers that in a fundamental context, the “combined Allied effort” really translates into the thousands of people working together in a focused and cooperative venture to fulfill the noble goal of preserving freedom for a bulk of humanity. Ordinary soldiers, sailors, airmen and countless others made this possible by offering their lives for a greater purpose, a greater good.
It is a day worth remembering.