‘For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. 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 good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.’’
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Weather conditions over Normandy had been iffy for days. Shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, thousands of Allied paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines over the Normandy peninsula.
Later that morning 75 years ago today, the first American, British and Canadian troops would come ashore, storming beaches code-named Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah and Omaha.
It was D-Day, the largest amphibious operation of all time and the beginning of the end of World War II. The invasion created a two-front war for Nazi Germany, one that would end with an Allied victory less than a year later.
Codenamed Operation Overlord, planning for the invasion began in 1943. Although the initiative had been seized from the Germans some months before, the western Allies had been unable to mass sufficient men and material to risk an attack in northern Europe. The Allies landed around 156,000 troops in Normandy, according to the D-Day Museum. The American forces numbered 73,000, including 23,250 on Utah Beach, 34,250 on Omaha Beach and 15,500 airborne troops. In the British and Canadian sector, 83,115 troops landed, including 24,970 on Gold Beach, 21,400 on Juno Beach, 28,845 on Sword Beach and 7,900 airborne troops.
According to the museum, naval forces included 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships and landing craft, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels. About 11,590 aircraft were available to support the landings on D-Day. Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties, and 127 were lost.
In the airborne landings, 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders of the Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force were used on D-Day.
American and Allied forces suffered almost 10,000 casualties during the operation.
Few of the remaining veterans speak of the harrowing assault — the parachute drops into pre-dawn darkness, the desperate scrambles ashore from landing craft under withering German fire, the heroic acts that saved lives or comforted the dying.
Members of VFW Post 1836 will gather today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of that turning point. As we pause to reflect upon both the heroic and horrific sacrifices made by members of ‘‘the greatest generation’’ during a time of terror and valor, we can’t help but wonder how, or if, future generations will remember that ‘‘longest day.’’
We hope they are aware of what this country sacrificed to protect and preserve the freedom we cherish today. It would be a shame if they did not.