Most of us remember D-Day as something from history class and old war movies.
However, for many Americans and their families — a dwindling number each year — this decisive and costly battle of World War II was very real. And, before they are all gone, we need to stop and remember their sacrifices.
It was 70 years ago, on June 6, 1944, that thousands of Allied troops crossed the English Channel and stormed five beaches in Normandy, France. Most Americans know of Utah and Omaha Beaches, where American troops landed. But there were three other beaches: Sword, Juno and Gold, where Allied troops from the United Kingdom, Canada and other countries, including many in Eastern Europe, landed. The Allies landed 156,000 soldiers that day. Some were paratroopers, but most landed in the cold, choppy water, many jumping in with up to 80 pounds of equipment. German troops met them with grenades and heavy artillery fire.
No one really knows how many died on June 6 — whether in the water, on the beach or scaling the 100-foot Pointe du Hoc that overlooked both Utah and Omaha Beaches and was manned by German gunners. The US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has recorded names of individual Allied personnel killed on that day. Their current tally is 2,499 U.S. fatalities and 1,914 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4,413 dead. It was one of the costliest battles of the entire war. Additionally, more than 6,000 other American soldiers were wounded.
No one can imagine what those men — many less than 21 years old — experienced. Few talked about the war after they came back, intent on returning to normal, everyday life. Only much later in life did some share their stories. And now, as the men and women of World War II reach their 80s and 90s, their voices are being silenced by death.
World War II is history for many of us. Yet our world today is forever marked by the sacrifices made to protect the world then from an aggression that threatened every freedom we now enjoy.
War is not something any one wants to experience. But freedom is. And, most often, freedom comes at a steep price. If you see a veteran today — whether or not they were at D-Day — say “thank you.” You never know when your freedom might be threatened, and it’s good to know some people stand ready to help.