Allied troops amassed in southern England on June 5, 1944 in preparation for the greatest invasion in history, an invasion of northern France in World War II codenamed “Operation Overlord” – D-Day.
In the wee hours of June 6, 1944 the largest amphibious assault ever attempted headed across the English Channel to the French coast, accompanied by hundreds of aircraft to drop paratroopers behind German lines. Long-range gun batteries on battleships and heavy cruisers began to pound German fortifications along the coast at dawn, hoping to make it easier for the landing craft to unload their weapons, tanks and troops on the beaches of Normandy.
Five beaches were targeted for landings by amphibious craft carrying American, Canadian, British and French troops, but most U.S. forces landed at two of them: Utah Beach and Omaha Beach.
U.S. forces landing at Utah found themselves 2,000 yards south of their targeted zone but quickly secured the beachhead. But the men hitting Omaha weren’t as fortunate as those on Utah.
Rough seas, fog, land mines, barbed wire and heavy barrages from the guns in the German bunkers overlooking Omaha Beach took their toll. Many GIs and Marines perished at landing, shot while wading through the surf. Some units at Omaha reported 90% of their men killed or wounded as the Americans struggled to take the beachhead under heavy fire.
But take it they did, steadily pushing the German forces further inland. Their faith, fortitude and heroism legendary as they pushed on to victory. As President Ronald Reagan described them, decades later:
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or the next.
By the end of that day, D-Day, 155,000 Allied troops had landed. The Normandy beachheads were secured and Europe was on its way to liberation. This day, June 6, we honor the men who took Normandy in 1944, for their courage, valor and sacrifice.
Originally Published June 6, 2016