Times West Virginian
It was nearly 70 years ago that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was offering the following words to soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force:
“You are about to embark upon a great crusade. ... The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. ... Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, (and) he will fight savagely.”
Eisenhower, who later went on to become the 34th president of the United States, was serving as the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II.
The day was June 6, 1944, and the mission was to “bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”
It’s been 69 years since Allied troops landed along the 50-mile stretch of coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.
That day — which became known as D-Day — was a day of great loss in terms of life for not only this nation, but other countries that sent soldiers as part of the Allied troops. With 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft, more than 150,000 soldiers fought to gain a foothold in Normandy.
By the end of the gruesome day of fighting, 9,000 soldiers had been killed or wounded, but the rest had begun their march across Europe to defeat Adolf Hitler, the founder and leader of the Nazi Party.
As the soldiers set out on their mission, Eisenhower reminded them that the operation was a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”
The crusade, horrific as it was, marked the beginning of the end of World War II, and each of the men involved was fulfilling his duty to serve, fighting for his country, fighting for freedom and fighting for basic human rights.
Today, on the anniversary of the battle, ceremonies will take place across the country in remembrance of the brave men who gave their lives on D-Day. Names will be read, plaques will be dedicated and wreaths will be placed on graves.
A memorial service at the National D-Day Memorial in particular will pay tribute to those soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy, and honor the veterans who lived to fight another day.
Regardless of where the services take place, each will serve as yet another reminder of the heroics of the brave men who served during World War II and took on what Eisenhower described as “a great and noble undertaking.”
As then-president George W. Bush said during the dedication of the D-Day Memorial, “... We pray that our country will always be worthy of the courage that delivered us from evil and saved the free world.”