Guest Editorial: Heroism of D-Day mission
In May 1940, German troops launched an attack on our nation’s longest ally, invading and occupying northwest France. They would hold that territory until this day in 1944, when U.S. forces led one of the largest amphibious military assaults ever conducted to begin the liberation of France and set the stages for the end of World War II.
The D-Day invasion took place 72 years ago today, when 156,000 U.S., British and Canadian forces stormed five different beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy region of France.
By dawn on June 6, 1944, paratroopers had already landed behind enemy lines and were working to secure bridges and exit roads. Troops began storming the beaches at sunrise. U.S. forces encountered fierce resistance at Omaha Beach, and it is estimated that 2,000 Americans were lost in the battle.
But by the end of the day, 156,000 Allied troops had made it ashore. And, within five days, more than 326,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy.
The bloody weeks that followed saw Allied forces fight their way through a dense landscape of marshes and hedgerows against a determined German resistance. A key victory came in late June when Allied forces claimed the port city of Cherbourg. By then, they had some 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles engaged in the fight.
By the end of August, the battle was won. The Allies reached the Seine River, and the German occupiers had fled France. By the time the fighting was over, more than 425,000 Allied and German troops had died or went missing in the Battle of Normandy, including 290,000 Allied troops.
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died,” Gen. George Patton once said. “Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
The victory in Normandy was a turning point in the war, and by May 1945, Adolph Hitler had committed suicide and Nazi Germany offered its unconditional surrender.
Years later, many of the men involved in the invasion talked about the confusion and chaos they encountered and the fear and anxiety they felt. They charged heroically ashore without knowing what dangers they would face; sustained by courage, faith and the bond that exists between comrades in battle.
Celebrations have been scheduled throughout Normandy today, as they are every year, in honor of the sacrifice and heroism of so many 72 years ago. The day passes with less fanfare here, but it is important that we remember the significance of D-Day and the battles that followed in preserving the freedom we enjoy today.
Each year, the number of men left from that heroic battle dwindles. It’s estimated that fewer than 1 million WWII survivors are still alive. But the world was forever changed by their bravery, and will long remember the valor they showed on the beaches and countryside of Normandy so many years ago.