SAN JOSE, JUNE 5, 2012 – On June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious military invasion in world history was directed against the many entrenched German Army divisions spread along 50 miles of French coastline at Normandy. This crucial assault, a pivotal moment in the European struggle during World War II, was dangerous, daring, and deadly, but Operation Neptune cracked the powerful Nazi grip on occupied France.
More popularly known as “D-Day.” the attack was the initial day of the Allied invasion of the German coastal fortifications in northern France. At the end of the day, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers had been killed or wounded, but “the free men of the world… marching together to victory,” as Eisenhower stated, were able to secure a foothold in the French sand. The cost for the beachhead was high, but taking the beach enabled more than 100,000 soldiers to begin their march across France to take down Adolf Hitler.
It was a desperate, yet incredible and meticulously planned endeavor to begin the initial thrust of Operation Overlord, the overriding plan designed to push deep into Nazi controlled France before the end of the summer in 1944. This initial attack, officially deemed Operation Neptune, did not officially end until June 30, 1944, by which time the Allies had established complete control of the Normandy beaches. Operation Overlord did not officially end until the Allied troops managed to get across the River Seine on August 19, 1944.
Very few, locked in the frenzy of battle during those days, could predict that the German military machine would collapse in less than a year, nor could many foresee that World War II would end in less than a year with the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Military on August 15, 1945. The Allied forces had been fighting Mussolini’s forces of Fascism and Hitler’s Nazi’s for a considerable period of time, and to believe it would end some day in the near future may have only been a dream to most. But the combined Allied effort on D-Day proved to be a decisive turning point in the war in Europe.
The invasion of Normandy was the last component of the military vise that pressed in upon Germany in the final year of the crushing of the Nazi military machine. Soviets on the Eastern Front pressed westward intent to reach Berlin while merely hours before the initiation of D-Day, the Allies liberated Rome and ultimately the rest of Italy, which exposed the underbelly of Germany to further Allied assault. Opening up a Western Front in occupied France initiated the final stage of tightening the vise to destroy future German tyranny.
Looking back one year prior, it was quite bleak in Europe. Hitler had transformed the German economy, which was one of the worst in Europe after the Great War, to one that surpassed both Britain and the Soviet Union combined, with the basic exception of the manufacture of aircraft and tanks. By mid-1943, Germany held all of the territory it seized from 1938 to 1941 in addition to the area it secured from the invasion of Russia from 1941 to 1942. The only major nations of Europe that Hitler did not completely dominate in 1943 were Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Without the commitment of the United States, the outcome of the war in Europe would have been much different. One can imagine what the stark reality of that world could have been. The Allies were not sure that D-Day would succeed. In one of his pockets, Eisenhower carried a prepared speech, that he never used, which he would have read publicly if the D-Day invasion had ended in failure. Even Franklin Roosevelt went on the radio to call upon Americans to join with him in prayer for ultimate success on June 6, 1944. In that ominous hour, our leaders could not be certain that our response to the tyranny of Hitler would be enough.
In that prayer, Roosevelt may have uttered some of the most sincere words he ever spoke:
“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tired, by night and by day, without rest – until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violence of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home…”
And so, the brave men and boys who hit the beaches of Normandy did fight. They did what they knew was needed to be done in those days of darkness. D-Day is not a happy holiday to be celebrated as a festive occasion. But it is a day to be remembered and to be understood as a day that helped to change the course of history for the advance of freedom for the people of the world. It is unwise to forget the value of D-Day. It is proper to remember the sacrifice of our fathers who fought and offered their lives for liberty.
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