Seventy years ago today, Operation Overlord was already well underway. Shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, more than 24,000 airborne assault troops dropped into the fields of Northern France to prepare the way for the beach landings scheduled to begin just a few hours later. This was to be the largest amphibious invasion in history and would ultimately lead to the downfall of one of the most oppressive and brutal regimes the world has ever known. It involved more than 11,000 aircraft, 7,000 ships, and one hundred and sixty thousand troops. These men, the majority of whom came from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, were poised to storm the beaches of Normandy and begin to drive back the forces of Nazi Germany. Millions more were preparing to follow them in the coming days and weeks. By the end of the day, the combined Allied forces had suffered at least 10,000 casualties, with more than 4,000 men left dead. The Battle of Normandy had begun, and would rage on until the end of August. It was to be a costly campaign, with hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides in the months that followed D-Day.
Nearly a decade ago, I had the privilege to visit Normandy with my family. We decided to visit the famous Pointe du Hoc. Standing there, it is easy to see why this place was so strategically important; from its height, one can see the whole of both Utah and Omaha beaches. This site held special significance for me because my grandfather was a Ranger who fought in campaigns across North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. It was his brother Rangers who assaulted this cliff-top fortress. Seeing it in person was a powerful experience. Even today it looks like the surface of the moon, covered in craters from the heavy shelling and bombing in the lead-up to the invasion. Seeing the bunkers there, many of which are still standing, was eerie. It was so quiet, peaceful almost; but it was not hard to imagine the chaos that took place here. Men fought, died, and sheltered here in a hail of gunfire and explosions that went on for nearly three days. Of the more than 225 Rangers who landed at Pointe du Hoc and scaled the hundred foot cliffs to reach the top, only 90 fighting men remained when relief arrived on June 8th.
After visiting Pointe du Hoc, we thought it was fitting to go to the Normandy American Military Cemetery and Memorial. Here stands row upon row of white crosses, marking the burial sites of 9,387 men, most of whom died fighting in the Normandy campaign. The cemetery is immaculate, perfectly cared for. It is a testament to the gratitude still felt by the people of France for the sacrifice made by so many Americans to free them from tyranny. It is important that we remember them as well.
On this 70th anniversary of the landings that marked the beginning of the end for Nazi rule in Europe, the numbers of World War II veterans amongst us have dwindled. We must make sure that they and the sacrifices of their comrades in arms are not forgotten. Without the 416,800 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who gave their lives, and the millions of others who served alongside them, our world would be a much darker place.
By Sam Burns, SDI
June 5th, 2015