The Times West Virginian

June 6, 2014

D-Day invasion: Courage helped change course of world history


Times West Virginian

— June 6, 1944, was a day unlike any other in World War II.

Or in any other war, for that matter.

If President Roosevelt described Dec. 7, 1941, as a “day of infamy” — the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor — June 6, 1944, was the day that led to the end of the war.

On that day, 70 years ago today, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation “a crusade in which we will accept nothing less than full victory.”

By day’s end, the Allies gained a foothold in Normandy, but it must be described as a costly invasion. More than 9,000 Americans as well as Allies were either killed or injured.

The Normandy landings, which were code-named Operation Neptune, were the largest seaborne invasion in history. The operation began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, led to the restoration of the French Republic, and contributed to an Allied victory in the war.

The invasion began by dawn on June 6 as thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The invasions began at 6:30 a.m. U.S. forces faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were more than 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.

According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.

Less than a week later, the beaches were fully secured and more than 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles and some 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy.

The Normandy invasion began to turn the tide against the Nazis. A significant psychological blow, it also prevented German leader Adolf Hitler from sending troops from France to build up his Eastern Front against the advancing Soviets.

The following spring, on May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. And Hitler? He had committed suicide a week earlier. The war with Japan had ended long before.

That was one military operation, as Gen. Eisenhower promised, that couldn’t fail. It was a place where uncommon courage was a common thing.

The final death toll was 29,000 Americans, with more than 106,000 wounded or missing in action. At the war’s end, 405,399 American military personnel had lost their lives and more than 670,000 were wounded. The total death toll of the war in all countries, both military and civilians, was more than 60 million. That was about 2 1/2 percent of the population of the world at that time.

That is why many Americans always mark the 6th of June on their calendars. It was indeed a day Americans should never forget. That day helped change the course of history.