WASHINGTON: Those of the greatest generation that willingly gave their lives during World War II, should never be forgotten. Not even after seventy-five long years. And not only on an anniversary.
The 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, is an especially appropriate time to stop for a moment of silence. Many young Americans volunteered for military service after the attack at Pearl Harbor. Millions went off to Europe to fight against Hitler and the Nazis.
Far too many never made it home again.
Over 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives on D-Day, and many thousands more died that month as the Allies secured Normandy. For many of those, their first day in battle was their last.
The people of Normandy declare we will never forget, and they never have. Through ceremonies around the world, humanity will always remember those who lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy on that day.
Those men gave their lives to freedom. Those dying so that others may be free from tyranny.
The assault on Normandy
The assault on the beaches at Normandy was an incredibly complex effort. It was part of a 3-pronged thrust to push the German troops back within the borders of German territory. It was the third prong after the Russians had been fighting for so long on the Eastern Front. With Rome secured in the south of Europe, D-Day was the effort to open a third front to force the German military back to their homeland.
It was a crucial moment in WWII.
D-Day began in the wee morning hours of June 6, 1944, and climaxed with the most massive amphibious military invasion in world history. This all-out invasion against Nazi military forces spread across 50 miles of French coastline at Normandy. It was an act of desperation, but it was also an act of daring. D-Day is a pivotal moment in the war in Europe.
“Operation Overlord” — the invasion of Normandy — was the first day of the Allied battle against the Germans in Normandy. The intent was not just to liberate France. Normandy represents the initial attack of a more massive and prolonged onslaught against German forces. The goal of the attack to open up a western front in Europe. Then to penetrate to the heart of Germany and break the Nazi war machine.
The initial beach assault was code-named “Operation Neptune.” The amphibious assault on five Normandy beaches with over 5,000 troop carriers and 500 minesweepers and support ships. It also included a massive naval bombardment, as well as an airborne assault involving 10,000 Allied aircraft striking at the German defenses. Furthermore, over 24,000 paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines shortly after midnight. “Neptune” actually lasted through the end of June.
According to the D-day museum,
“Operation Neptune began on D-Day (June 6, 1944) and ended on June 30, 1944. By this time, the Allies had established a firm foothold in Normandy. Operation Overlord also began on D-Day, and continued until Allied forces crossed the River Seine on August 19, 1944.”
The initial efforts to open this new front against the German stranglehold on most of Europe did succeed but at significant cost.
By the end of the first day, more than 12,000 Allied soldiers had been killed or wounded. However, on that day, the Allies were able to secure a foothold in the French sand.
Though the cost for the beachhead was high, taking the beaches enabled over 160,000 soldiers to begin their march across France to take down Adolf Hitler.
By the end of the month, that force grew to 39 divisions and over a million men. Operation Neptune managed to crack the Nazi’s grip on occupied France.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces behind the massive, cross-channel, frontal invasion of the German positions in Northern France.
Eisenhower was a proponent of a direct assault as early as 1942. Unfortunately, the American General met opposition from the British who feared a re-run of the devastating trench warfare of World War I.
January 15, 1944.
When Eisenhower gave the orders to commence the D Day attack, he spoke with 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.”
Operation Overlord proved successful and by the end of June 1944, Allied troops had established complete control of Normandy beaches. They fought their way across the River Seine by August 19, 1944, at which time Operation Overlord ended by accomplishing the objective of driving deep into Nazi-controlled France before the end of the summer.
The Allied thrust was the beginning of the end of the German military machine. The complex and deadly invasion of Normandy was a final component of a military strategy. That strategy put Germans in a vice, with the Soviet Red Army closing in from the Eastern Front, and the British and American forces pushing up into the underbelly of Germany through Italy.
The attack on Normandy exposed the overextended German military to further Allied assault from a Western Front, bringing the Nazi army’s down within a year.
The combined Allied effort on D-Day proved to be a decisive turning point in the war in Europe.
By 1943, Hitler had taken over every nation in Europe except Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Soviet Union. Without the cooperation of all the Allies on D-Day, the outcome of the war in Europe may have been much different. It is hard to imagine what the horrendous reality of that world could have been.
It is good to reflect upon the value of D-Day and those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for freedom. The better image to call upon could be one shared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he called upon Americans to join with him in prayer for ultimate success on June 6, 1944.
In that prayer, Roosevelt defended the likes of the “greatest generation” before God:
“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion … our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity …
“Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith …
“For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.”
Although D-Day belongs to history, and although the old soldiers are fading into the shadows, it is wise to remember this Day and the deeds of that generation.
The brave men and boys who hit the beaches of Normandy made great sacrifices, not only on June 6, but also throughout the war, and even after the war. Their sacrifice during the most devastating war in human history changed the world.
They truly deserve to be remembered.