Each year on June 6, the United States remembers the brave soldiers who, during World War II, stormed the beaches of Normandy, France. The invasion, which began on June 6, 1944, served as a turning point in helping end the war against Nazi Germany. Germany surrendered less than a year later in May 1945.
Many of our younger generations may not know or understand what D-Day truly represents. It was the beginning of a battle that lasted from June 6 to August 30, 1944. Officially named Operation Overlord and codenamed Operation Neptune, the battle eventually became known as D-Day. (Interestingly, the “D” in “D-Day” merely stands for “Day.”) The Allied forces’ invasion of Normandy was the largest seaborne invasion in history. American and British leaders meticulously planned out the invasion over the course of several months and knew that casualties would be great.
Early on June 6, 1944, the U.S. military and Allied forces began the invasion. In a radio broadcast that evening, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked all Americans to join in prayer for the service members participating in the invasion:
“They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.”
On this day, more than 156,000 American, British, and Canadian troops – as well as soldiers from other Allied nations – stormed the five beaches of Normandy, which were codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. These men knew the danger that was before them and heroically continued on – earning the name “The Greatest Generation,” along with their fellow service members who were fighting in the Pacific and the young men and women who were contributing to the war effort on the home front.
Of the five beaches, Omaha beach had the most casualties and was known as one of the bloodiest beaches of D-Day. This beach was surrounded by high cliffs which were armed by Germany artillery. As a result, many of the Allied troops died before even reaching the beach. These men knew they may not survive, yet they forged ahead anyway and showed what bravery really is. These men should be honored and remembered not only on June 6 but every day of the year.
There may not be many parades or ceremonies to honor the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, but there are memorials that you may visit to show your remembrance.
The World War II Museum in New Orleans is an almost 180,000 square-foot museum that starts the observance of D-Day at 6 a.m. on June 6, the approximate time the invasion began. All throughout that day, real-time briefings are reported at the museum as if they were currently happening. Visitors can also get on board a replica of a Higgins boat to get a feel of what the assault may have been like.
The D-Day memorial in Bedford, Va. is a monument that stands on an 88-acre memorial and features a 44-foot-tall granite arch, a reflecting pool, and English gardens. Encircling the monument are the names of more than 4,400 Allied soldiers who died during the invasion.
One place that is often visited and leaves an impression on everyone who visits is the Normandy American Cemetery in Normandy, France. This cemetery covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of more than 9,300 dead soldiers, sailors, and paratroopers, most of whom lost their lives on D-Day. The cemetery includes the Wall of the Missing, a semi-circular wall which contains the names of more than 1,500 soldiers who went missing in action on June 6, 1944. For those soldiers who have been found and identified recently, a rosette marks their names.
It’s hard to imagine that it was 78 years ago that our brave soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy to help end the war in Europe. In the years since that date, we have continued to see the bravery of our men and women in the military who continue to fight for our country and are ready to give up their lives for freedom. As we know, freedom is never free.
It is important to honor all men and women of the armed forces for their sacrifice. A small gesture or a simple thank you to any member of the military shows that you are thankful for them.
It’s our obligation as adults to remind our youth of the sacrifices so many brave men and women have made on our behalf. Those sacrifices preserve our freedom and should not be taken lightly or for granted. We must never forget the sacrifice made by all of the U.S. and Allied forces who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and who fought in the ensuing Battle of Normandy. While many who survived that day and the months-long battle that followed have since passed away, we remember them and honor their sacrifice on D-Day and every day.
MAY GOD BLESS AMERICA AND ALL THOSE WHO PROTECT US.
Ronald G. Rios is the director of the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners. He submits the occasional column to Newspaper Media Group.