On the morning of June 6, more than 156,000 Allied troops – consisting of primarily American, British and Canadian soldiers but including troops from several other nations – began storming 50 miles of beautiful beaches in Northern France that were strongly defended by German forces.
Codenamed Operation Neptune, this turning point in World War II, which took years of planning and was the largest seaborne invasion in history, created a second front in Europe, helping the Allies defeat Germany, liberate Europe from Nazi occupation, and eventually end the war in Europe.
In the United States the observance of this day, which ultimately was known as D-Day, serves as a remembrance of the brave soldiers who landed on those beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.
The invasion involved five beaches which the Allies codenamed from east to west: Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah.
Surrounded by high cliffs that were heavily fortified with German artillery, Omaha Beach was the bloodiest of the D-Day beaches. An estimated 2,400 American troops died on Omaha Beach alone.
The soldiers who participated in D-Day knew their chances of surviving such a campaign were not good. They showed the most extreme bravery and should be honored and remembered. Many died before even reaching the beach. An exact number of D-Day casualties is unknown.
On the evening of the D-Day invasion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation in a radio broadcast. Although the president had been on the radio the night prior to the invasion, he could not give any indication then that Allied forces were already crossing the English Channel to Normandy. When he took to the airwaves on the evening of June 6, Roosevelt said, “My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.”
There are many memorials set up to honor the brave Allied forces that fought at Normandy. These memorials are located throughout the Normandy region of France and in other allied countries.
In the United States, the town of Bedford, Virginia, which had the most casualties of any American town during the D-Day campaign, is the site of the National D-Day Memorial for American D-Day veterans. In total, there were 34 Virginia National Guard from Bedford who were part of D-Day. Of those, 23 would not survive. Nineteen were killed during the first day of the invasion, and four more would lose their lives during the rest of the Normandy campaign.
On June 6, please take a moment to remember and reflect on the lives of those soldiers from Bedford, and from all towns large and small around the country and the globe, who did not hesitate to give their lives to protect our freedom. They exemplify what true heroism is and have earned the name “the greatest generation.”
Ronald G. Rios is the director of the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners. He submits the occasional column to Newspaper Media Group.