If the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor is a date which will live in infamy, then June 6, 1944 is the date that America proved to the world it would not be intimidated by bullies.
70 years ago, the United States and its allies invaded Normandy to liberate Europe from Hitler and the Nazis. Codenamed Operation Neptune, amphibious assaults by an estimated 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces stormed the beaches of the Atlantic wall in northern France while 24,000 paratroopers dropped all over the peninsula the night before. Every branch of the military participated in the invasion with 4,414 Allied soldiers losing their lives on that fateful day.
The Normandy beachhead was separated into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The Americans assaulted the westernmost section of the beachhead, Utah and Omaha beaches, which were the heaviest defended areas by the Germans. Omaha beach in particular was considered nearly impenetrable; this is where an estimated 3,000 American casualties occurred.
The Nazis were perched in pillboxes in the cliffs of Omaha beach, which happened to be concealed from the crosshairs of Allied warships. Exposed in the open with little support from the Navy guns and Allied planes, combat engineers cleared obstacles for tanks to push through while the infantry assaulted the pillboxes one-by-one.
Mere hours before the amphibious landings, Allied bombers targeted a variety of areas presumed to be German strongholds throughout the Normandy peninsula. Inclement weather concealed most of the targets near the intended beach landings, so when the early morning assaults began, most were still intact.
Paratroopers dropped into heavily defended areas near the beachhead five hours before the invasion, though nearly every one of them missed their intended drop zone. Although they were lost and did not have most of their equipment, the elite fighting forces of the day succeeded in securing their objectives. During the duration of the Battle of Normandy, which lasted until August, more Americans were killed than the entire war in Iraq from 2003 on.
The Invasion of Normandy may not have been successful without Operation Fortitude, the distraction operation of flamboyant American General, George Patton. Patton’s armored battalion was infamously aggressive; the Nazis became aware of this during the North Africa and Sicily campaigns the year prior. General Patton was stationed near Dover, roughly 30 miles from Calais that is the narrowest point of the English Channel.
With a fake vehicle battalion made from plywood and tents, the American General remained in plain sight of German reconnaissance planes to lead them to believe the Allied invasion would commence from there. The gamble paid off as a large chunk of the German army defended Calais during the Normandy invasions.
D-Day marked the first day of American involvement in the European theater of war. The war against Hitler and the Nazis lasted until May 8, 1945, nearly an entire year. The D-Day invasion has been portrayed in pop culture through countless films and TV shows. D-Day Veterans agree that Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” nailed it in regards to the beach landings.
The men and women who served our country that day are aptly labeled as “The Greatest Generation.” The world would be a much different place if it were not for the people who made the ultimate sacrifice. Veterans of World War II are becoming increasingly harder to find, so be sure to salute or shake one’s hand to honor those who participated in the “Day of Days” and beyond.