Monday, June 7, 2010

D-Day, Sixty-Six Years Later

June 6, 2010 marked the 66th anniversary of the Allied invasion, code name Operation Overlord, that started the end of World War II. Although this year’s anniversary did not have any significant remembrances, but each year on this date, it is important to remember those who gave their lives on the Beaches of Normandy that brought freedom to Europe. This post will tell a brief history of the D-Day invasion that took place on Tuesday, June 6, 1944 and how it led to the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. Also, how the invasion is remembered historically through museums, movies and books.

At the beginning of World War II, before the United States entered, France fell quickly to the Nazis early in the conflict. In addition, the Soviet Union faced a fierce battle with Germany on their border and for the next couple of years, kept pressuring the U.S. and Great Britain to open a second front to alleviate pressure from the German forces. After years of debate, the Allies agreed the summer of 1944 was the best time to launch a massive invasion of Western Europe. The invasion was scheduled to start June 4 but constant weather problems delayed the operation and finally it began in the early hours of June 6. That morning, paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division landed behind enemy lines in France. It started out poorly as they over shot their landing zones, got stuck on rooftops of buildings, crashed into residential homes, and instantly killed by the Germans. Days leading up to the invasion, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower even acknowledged that he would take full responsibility if it failed. That changed as U.S. and British forces slammed into the Beaches of Normandy at dawn.

The Allies assembled the invasion in Great Britain with tremendous amounts of men and supplies, including hundreds of ships and thousands of landing crafts. Before they set out on the fateful, ninety mile mission across the English Channel, President Franklin Roosevelt urged Americans to pray for the safety and success of the troops. When the mother ships reached a couple of miles off the shores of France, the soldiers boarded the landing crafts that would take them as close as possible to the beaches. Nerves ran through the men along with uncontrollable shaking and some even coughed up their breakfast . When the doors flapped down, instant death struck the first wave as the Germans opened fire on top of the ten to twenty foot high cliffs. Their forces anticipated for the last couple of years that the Allies would open a separate front and prepared extensively by placing land mines, machine guns, and obstacles up and down the beaches and cliffs. When the first Allied wave became ineffective, they still pressed on with wave after wave to crack the German line. Then, by late morning to early afternoon, United States and Great Britain finally broke it and either captured or killed thousands of German soldiers.

The invasion worked and changed the course of World War II as France was liberated. In the following year, Allies marched towards Berlin engaging the German Army in battle after battle until it surrendered unconditionally in May of 1945. The D-Day invasion cost over 100,000 lives of the Allied forces. The historical importance of the invasion proved how it initated the beginning of the end of World War II and if it failed, Europe would have suffered severely for the next couple of years.

Historical memory has not strayed from remembering this significant event in history. In the 1960s, the film, The Longest Day, was the first movie that showed the story of the invasion. On the 40th anniversary, President Ronald Regean gave a resounding speech about the invasion and how it changed the course of history. He believed that the Allies where not conquerors but liberators that provided freedom to Europe. The late military historian, Stephen Ambrose, wrote a bestseller of the D-Day Invasion and founded the national D-Day Museum located in New Orleans. The film maker, Steven Spielberg, produced two movies that included the invasion, Saving Private Ryan and the Band of Brothers which showed the 101st Airborne's role at Normandy and the rest of the War. I hope everybody takes the time every June 6 to remember the allies who gave their lives in the most important invasion in the twentieth-century that brought freedom to millions of Europeans after they were denied it for the last painful six years.