69 years ago this morning, human beings from the naval forces of eight Allied nations laid their lives on the line in ways most of us can hardly fathom. Two-thirds of them were from the
U.S., U.K., and Canada.
Traveling in ships and amphibious vessels, they set sail from
England in the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944, bound for the Normandy beaches of Nazi-controlled France. It was the first time since the 1600’s that any invading military had crossed the perilous waters of the English Channel, and as day broke tens of thousands of troops disembarked from their landing craft and plunged immediately into Hell on Earth.
Slogging first through waves and then through sand, they were sitting ducks for the Nazi gunners positioned on shore. Bullets rained down on them amidst a cacophony of explosive reverberations. The men at the fronts of the landing crafts were the first ones to step on the beach, and they stepped onto it knowing they were likely to get shot. Each of them was acutely aware he might be entering the final seconds of his life.
Approximately 10,000 Allied men were killed or wounded that day. However, in bearing that brunt of brutality, those who were first on the scene helped clear the way for 100,000 of their fellow soldiers to reach shore and advance against the enemy, freeing occupied towns as they went. By the end of the month more than 800,000 men had done so, and the war’s momentum had swung in the Allies’ favor. Within a year the Nazis surrendered unconditionally.
In military parlance, the phrase “D-Day” refers to the first day of any operation, but in the public’s mind, it will always refer to the events on the beaches of
Normandy. And now, the men who braved the bullets on those beaches are dying away at a rapid rate. Let us always appreciate their valor, and always understand that we would not be free without them.