Editorial: 69 years later
Sixty-nine years ago, today, Allied forces took part in the Normandy Invasion, a major step in the effort to take back Europe from Nazi control.
Historians describe the invasion — more easily identified by its moniker of D-Day — as a bold military initiative fraught with danger as American, British and Free French forces landed on the shore of Normandy, in occupied France, despite it being well fortified and closely watched by the Germans, who had spent years building its defenses.
The Allies sent more than 150,000 troops across the English Channel in 5,000 vessels for a landing on the beaches in what was called Operation Overlord. Here’s how the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., describes what the soldiers faced, particularly on Omaha Beach, one of the landing sites:
“The boat ramp goes down, then jump, swim, run, and crawl to the cliffs. Many of the first young men (most not yet 20 years old) entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection. Blanketed by small-arms fire and bracketed by artillery, they found themselves in hell.”
It was a costly hell — allied forces killed that day are estimated at somewhere between 2,500 and 5,000. Add the wounded to the total and the figure climbs to around 10,000.
And yet D-Day was just the start of the push by the Allies into Europe in what was a three-month campaign to get out of Normandy. Between the Allied and German forces, more than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing.
Sixty-nine years later there are fewer and fewer veterans who participated in this invasion, which hastened the end of Nazi dominion.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that World War II veterans are dying at a rate of more than 600 a day. That puts the number of still-living World War II veterans somewhere around 1 million. And that makes the number of servicemen who took part in D-Day alive today even smaller.
Sixty-nine years later, it is important to remember this day, the effort by our troops and their sacrifices.