Seventy-five years ago today, Allied forces launched the largest amphibious invasion in history. Operation Overlord consisted of 13,000 aircraft, 5,000 ships and 160,000 American, British and Canadian troops.
In stormy weather, the soldiers landed at Normandy beaches code named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Before their departure across the English Channel, General Eisenhower told the soldiers in a broadcasted message, “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory… We will accept nothing less than full victory.”
The invasion of the enemy fortified shores would take a heavy toll. It’s estimated that 10,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing. Many of the dead were untested soldiers who were caught in withering enemy fire as they emerged from their Higgins boats or struggled to make it across the wide beaches.
(Chris Lawrence reports on a West Virginia native who was part of the invasion. Read here.)
The free world commemorates this day for many reasons. D-Day was a historic logistic and military accomplishment like the world had not seen before or since. The leaders believed the outcome of the war hinged on the success or failure of the attack.
But also, D-Day is remembered for the righteousness of the cause. Most of Europe had been conquered by Hitler. The oppression, cruelty and genocide inflicted by the Nazis foretold a dark future for the continent. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in prayer, the noble effort by the Allies was for liberation.
“They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all thy people.”
It’s important to remember that prior to the war, the United States was not a world power. Many Americans were content to remain isolated safely across the ocean from Europe’s struggles. WVU Associate Professor Joshua Arthurs said our country was changed significantly by the war.
“This showcase of military and technological strength announced America’s arrival as a global superpower and the defender of liberty and democracy,” Arthurs said. “For most Western Europeans, America appeared as a liberator, a land of hope, plenty and optimism.”
When reading about D-Day and WWII, the word “liberator” comes up again and again. The sacrifice that was made 75 years ago on those stormy beaches was enormous, but so was the purpose.
As President Ronald Reagan said in 1984 during a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of D-Day, “Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.”
We commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, not only because of the sacrifice and the accomplishment, but also because it is essential to remember how the forces of freedom, when working together and directed toward a single noble purpose, can defeat evil and despotism.