“You are about to embark on the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you… I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle.” – Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Thursday marks the 75th Anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Europe, the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.
Codenamed Operation Overlord, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the invasion. By the end of the day, withstanding heavy casualties, the Allies had a toe hold in Europe to begin bringing the massive numbers of men and equipment necessary to end the war.
In doing research for this column, I learned that D-Day, as the invasion day has come to be known, was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken before or since June 6, 1944. Every detail of the invasion had been planned for months and years.
The landing troops, each carrying 80 pounds of gear, were trained to run or jump off the ramps of small landing boats and advance 200 yards of beach until reaching the relative safety of the face of the cliffs that overlooked the beach.
The improvisation of Allied naval ships, who turned back to provide aerial bombardment to support the invasion, saved countless numbers of landing troops.
The volume of small arms and artillery fire on the beach made the scene literally hell on earth. Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties, with nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and a further 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to fathom what the soldiers who fought that day witnessed. Many were new recruits, barely 20 years old.
Today, the closest many of us can get to understanding what happened on the beaches of Normandy is to watch documentaries or dramatizations. While these wonderfully constructed recreations are compelling, the breadth and depth of the sacrifice cannot be fully understood.
It is difficult to imagine anything but the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, but on the morning of June 6, 1944, nothing was certain. If the invasion had failed, the war would have gone on much longer and could have very well resulted in a different outcome.
The D-Day invasion is one of those pivotal moments in human history when the direction and tide of the lives of millions are decided by the actions of a much smaller number.
There are large national cemeteries and memorials in France that serve as permanent reminders of the scope of the sacrifices of the soldiers of the dozen nations that fought to begin the end of the war. It is fitting and proper that the day is commemorated every year.
It is also important to remember the causes of World War II and the value of lasting alliances to ensure that the mistakes of nearly a century ago are not repeated.
The human cost paid by families of the soldiers is too high for us to allow this to ever be repeated.
As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at email@example.com, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.
Thanks for reading; I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same.