Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Battle of Normandy and the beginning of the liberation of Europe. The D-Day invasion changed the course of World War II and world history. It turned the tide against Hitler and the Nazi forces and sparked real hope across occupied France and the rest of Europe. And for many brave members of the Armed Forces, it was also the last day of their lives.
Commanders and soldiers knew the invasion of the heavily fortified beaches would be difficult, and the cost in lives would be extremely high. The National D-Day Memorial Foundation lists 4,414 names representing every Allied troop who died on D-Day. But historians know that the true number is probably greater, perhaps as many as 10,000 to 12,000 (including killed, missing and wounded) but winning the war, not keeping detailed records for peace time reflections, was the Allies’ focus. The Germans also lost between 4,000 and 9,000 troops in the invasion.
“So many dead. So many young men, young boys, killed on the spot. It was difficult to see and absorb,” Charles Shay, who was a 19-year-old American medic on the beach that day, told the Associated Press.
“You couldn’t go five yards without running into a dead body either floating or laying on the beach,” Albert “Bud” Rees of Indiana told CNHI News Service.
For most of us, it is all but impossible to imagine what D-Day was like for the men on the beaches. To know what they were up against — at least to some degree — and still go forward and do their duty because it was the right thing to do, because it was the only way to push back against Hitler’s forces, requires an incredible amount of bravery. Most people are fortunate that they will never have to learn if they could muster such courage in the face of death.
“It’s hard to explain. You were afraid and you were scared, but you knew you had to do it. And you knew you were carrying men and young men into that beach in the face of the enemy, that those men were never gonna come back. There were a lot of them that never came back,” said Edgar Owen Edwards of Kentucky.
We are grateful to all those who fought at D-Day, and we honor those who gave their lives. The term “Greatest Generation” originated for a reason. We believe preserving that history is important, not only to make sure we remember their sacrifices but to make sure we learn from what they endured and do not repeat it. That is why the Star Beacon has begun our series “Honoring Those Who Served Honorably” profiling area World War II veterans, not only in a story but through their own words via online videos.
It is also why we hope as many people as possible will visit D-Day Conneaut in August. While the re-enactment has many fun, family-friendly aspects, it also helps not only maintain the memories of D-Day but also bring history alive. It is one of the closest ways to get a sense not only of the death and devastation of D-Day, but also why so many were willing to make that ultimate sacrifice.
These are lessons we hope stick with our leaders today. Some have recently begun to beat the drums of war, but as we recall what it cost to turn the tide of World War II, we should remember the words of Winston Churchill, which we have cited before and likely will again: “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter.
“The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. … Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, there would not be a war if the other man did not think that he also had a chance.”