The 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France will be observed today on the beaches in Normandy, at Pointe du Hoc, at the nearby town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and at the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. These will be solemn tributes to the thousands of men who gave their lives to begin the reclamation of Europe from Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The Nazis had suppressed freedom for four long years and the fate of the world hung in the balance as the largest seaborne invasion in history landed troops on a fifty mile-wide stretch of beach on the coast of France.
None of the Allied objectives were achieved on that first day at the staggering cost of over 10,000 lives in the first twenty-four hours. Alone, 2,400 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing) occurred at “Bloody Omaha Beach.” It took tremendous courage, sacrifice, perseverance and determination to finally break through the coastal defenses and begin movement inland. The liberation of Paris would follow in August 1944, but the unconditional surrender of all German forces would not come until May 7, 1945. Neither would have been possible without the success of “Operation Overlord.”
Dignitaries from the United States, Britain, France, and Canada will honor the dead as well as the veterans still living today. Due to the passage of time, only a handful remain. They’re in their 90’s now and this will be the last major celebration for those that survived the chaos and carnage of that day. They should be honored for their bravery and certainly world leaders will speak to their heroism. The Press will cover the speeches and most Americans will take pride in their words, but that remembrance will be fleeting. Less than 1% of our country’s population serves in the military. Few have any personal knowledge of the sacrifices made by our military members and their families, and they go about their lives without much reflection on wars past or present.
So, how will you observe D-Day?
I would be in France if I could to be a part of this last great celebration. I’d like to meet face-to-face with the veterans and hear their stories. Their numbers are dwindling and their first-hand recollections are all but gone. Their pride in being a member of the Greatest Generation and their pain over the loss of their friends and comrades will recede from public consciousness. Soon, their recollections will be just words in a history book.
I can’t be there, so I’ll watch the news. I’ll read the paper. I’ll put on my two favorite movies about D-Day, The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. These are insufficient gestures at best, but at least I’ll be remembering. For me it is a very emotional journey back in time. We face a far different world today thanks to their sacrifices. However, it is one no less dangerous. Threats evolve and echoes of the past remain. The 9,388 crosses and Stars of David at Colleville-sur-Mer remind us of the cost of the Normandy landings, while ongoing burials at all our National Cemeteries attest to the price in human lives of ongoing wars. I hope that we will always remember. We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
So, how will you observe D-Day?