Lest we forget D-Day: June 6, 1944

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American Military Cemetery

By John Hernandez

This last Thursday, June 6, was the 69th anniversary of D-Day. During World War II, D-Day was the first day of the invasion of Normandy by allied troops. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Over 5,000 vessels and 4,000 smaller landing crafts would transport nearly one hundred thousand soldiers across the English Channel to beachheads in Normandy, France.

The landing areas were heavily fortified by the German army. Nearly 85 percent of the allied troops involved in the invasion had never seen combat before landing on foreign shores that fateful day. Their baptism under fire must have been a nightmare, for many of them it would be their last day on earth.

A little after midnight, 24,000 American, British and Canadian paratroopers jumped behind enemy lines. The beachhead invasion began at 6:30 a.m. By nightfall there were over 10,000 casualties (killed, wounded or missing in action) suffered by allied troops, 6,600 of them Americans, including an estimated 2,500 dead. The allies had secured the beachhead and were able to land more troops as they advanced inland. Over two million allied soldiers would be landed in Normandy during the coming days. It would be the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.

In the Battle of Normandy, which lasted from June 6, 1944 to August 30, 1944, there were 209,672 allied casualties. American losses were 20,838 killed, 94,881 wounded and 10,128 missing. To put this into perspective, in twelve years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, 4,683 American soldiers have died.

Two-term President General Dwight Eisenhower, who was the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II and helped plan and gave the order for the D-Day invasion, visited Colleville-sur-Mer in 1964, a village in France where the Normandy American Cemetery and memorial is located. It was his first and only time he had visited the site since the end of World War II. There are 9,386 Americans buried there, 307 marked as unknown. Looking over Omaha Beach, where many allied and American soldiers were killed and wounded in the chaos and hell that was D-Day, Eisenhower spoke from his heart.

“These men came here – British and our allies, and Americans, to storm these beaches for one purpose only, not to gain anything for ourselves, not to fulfill any ambition that America had for conquest, but just to preserve freedom,” he said. “Many thousands of men have died for such ideals as these, but these young boys were cut off in their prime. I devoutly hope that we will never again have to see such scenes as these. I think and hope, and pray, that humanity will have learned, we must find some way, to gain an eternal peace for this world.”

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