Less than two weeks ago, we printed a special section which honored members of the military from the Mid-Shore who lost their lives in battle fighting for our freedom.
We still keep those people in mind as we move into June. Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the massive Allied invasion of Normandy, in occupied France, on June 6, 1944, that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany and eventually the end of World War II.
Planning for D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in human history, began more than a year earlier, and included deceptive strikes meant to mislead the Germans about when and where the Allied forces might attack. A bombing campaign and an aerial assault preceded the landings, which included more than 5,000 vessels and 160,000 troops.
Before the invasion, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe, issued this statement to the troops:
“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.
“But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
“I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
“Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Overall casualties on June 6 included at least 12,000, with more than 4,440 dead for the Allies and about 1,000 for the Germans. Losses were heaviest at Omaha Beach, where troops from the 29th Division went ashore. Among those soldiers were men from Maryland in the 115th Infantry.
If you saw “Saving Private Ryan,” the Stephen Spielberg blockbuster of 20 years ago starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, you saw what the troops were up against. It was formidable.
D-Day was a major turning point in the war.
The successful invasion opened a western front against the Germans and allowed the Allies to establish a beachhead in France, from which thousands of defending British and French troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk four years earlier.
As the years have passed, fewer and fewer of those men and women described by Tom Brokaw as “The Greatest Generation,” who lived through the Great Depression and fought abroad or contributed at home during World War II, remain with us.
Even fewer are those who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
Tomorrow, we honor those who fell in battle in Normandy 75 years ago, as well as those who survived that day and returned to create a stronger, better America.