Seventy years ago, men sat in boats, or planes, and headed toward a beach in Normandy.
What courage it must have taken that day for those men. They knew what likely awaited them – and they moved forward anyway, because they knew no action would result in something far worse for the world, and sacrifice was required to achieve the desired result.
June 6, 1944, is known as D-Day. It’s the day thousands of Allied Forces members stormed into Europe with the aim of wresting control from Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers.
Imagine what the world might be like if they had not had the courage to at least try.
The war didn’t end that day – it took until 1945 for that. But the foothold those brave men gained that day led to the eventual surrender of Axis powers.
For the first time in a long time during World War II, the day offered a beacon of hope.
And the cost for that hope, as in all wars, was great.
D-Day included more than 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes, and more than 150,000 servicemen, according to the website for The National D-Day Memorial.
“After years of meticulous planning and seemingly endless training, for the Allied Forces, it all came down to this: The boat ramp goes down, then jump, swim, run, and crawl to the cliffs,” the history portion of that website reads. “Many of the first young men (most not yet 20 years old) entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection. Blanketed by small-arms fire and bracketed by artillery, they found themselves in hell.”
When it was over, there were nearly 10,000 Allied Forces casualties, with more than 4,000 confirmed dead, according to the D-Day Memorial website.
“Yet somehow, due to planning and preparation, and due to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces, Fortress Europe had been breached.”
The names of some of those who made the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day can be found on plaques throughout the Sauk Valley, including among the 128 listed on a memorial at Veterans Memorial Park in Dixon for Lee County soldiers who died during World War II,
These people were part of the Greatest Generation, a term coined more than 50 years after D-Day by journalist Tom Brokaw in a book of the same name. He wrote that this group of people was “the greatest generation any society has ever produced” and argued they fought because it was “the right thing to do.”
In a world where we get frustrated by a slow Internet connection, and where putting the needs of others before our own isn’t prized, their enduring legacy is a lesson we all could be reminded of.
Most of those who were part of D-Day, or World War II in general, are no longer with us. Despite their passing, what they did, what they put on the line and gave up, cannot be forgotten.
Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle surveyed the carnage on the day after the invasion and wrote eloquently of the scene “so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.”
They deserve our gratitude, still, now and forever.