Today, 70 years ago, on June 6, 1944, America's soldiers took a deep breath, mustered every ounce of courage in them, and marched relentlessly against the gunfire up the sandy beaches of Normandy in the last great invasion of the last great war.
Operations Overlord, and Neptune, or D-Day (The Day of Days) as it came to be known, is one of the single most important days in our cultural history. It marks the first day in a continuous fight to connect a series of beaches along Coastal Normandy, and the beginnings of the brave invasion into occupied France.
It began shortly after midnight, when a strength of 24,000 U.S. Army, Canadian, and British airborne forces landed in Normandy in a massive aerial insertion and assault meant to secure a foothold on the continent and prepare for the following amphibious assault. On the first day, Carentan, St. Lô, Bayeux, and Caen were unable to be secured, but the invasion was not unsuccessful.
Following the airborne invasion, 156,000 total allied forces landed at the beaches at Normandy, amounting to at least 12,000 casualties and 4,414 confirmed killed in action by the end of the day. Though a pyrrhic victory in some sense, the first bold step towards liberating France and the eventual defeat of the German Army were taken, marking the beginning of the end of a long and horrifying war. Today we remember those men who fought and died, and especially the ones who survived long enough to come back and tell the tale.
Those stories of greater men were told through various film and television depictions, the most famous of which residing with the HBO miniseries Band Of Brothers based on the stories of the 101st Airborne, 506th PIR, 2nd Battalion, Easy Company, and the film by Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan; opening with a depiction of the Omaha Beach Landings from the eyes of an Army Ranger captain, and telling the story of the pursuit of decency in an indecent time of violence and struggle.
Though many who were stood on those lines have long since passed, many paratroopers and soldiers still remain alive to see the beaches on this historic anniversary. A reenactment of the Operation Overlord combat jump was performed by Canadian and American Airborne forces over Normandy, and 93-year-old Jim Martin, a paratrooper with the 101st who landed just behind Utah Beach on D-Day sealed the anniversary by jumping into the same area he had 70 years ago with his unit.
History should never be forgotten, and this part of our history never will, but on day's like today, it's important we take the time to remember those who remembered us in their darkest hour, and kept on fighting in the name of peace and freedom.