Those remaining are elderly now, their hair white, their numbers thinning. They are our fathers, our grandfathers, our great-grandfathers, men who answered their country’s call in darker days.
They are much, much more than that; they are heroes in every sense of the word.
On D-Day, all those years ago, these men from the United States, Great Britain and Canada risked everything on the sand and rocks of the French coast – and we all breathe free today because of their courage and their sacrifice. They bought our way of life with their blood and tears.
Seventy-five years ago today, on June 6, 1944, about 150,000 troops aboard the largest amphibious invasion force in history massed in the waters of the English Channel for Operation Overlord. By sea and air and stormed ashore along five beaches of Normandy, France, into the very teeth of the German war machine in one of the epic military operations in history.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the nation by radio that evening of the invasion and it held its collective breath. He offered a prayer that began, “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.”
It was the beginning of the push that drove the Germans back to Berlin. D-Day is a day that changed the course of World War II and, in a very real sense, the history of civilization.
Of those who boarded the 7,000 vessels used in the amphibious attack, about 9,000 were killed or wounded on D-Day. About 130,000 were ashore by nightfall. More than 14,000 sorties were flown by the 7,000 bombers and fighters available that day.
The names of the bloody beaches are burned into history: Utah; Omaha; Gold; Juno; and, Sword. And it did not get easier once the troops were ashore.
It was costly. The Normandy campaign lasted two months – June 6-Aug. 21 – and the Germans lost 450,000 soldiers, the Allies, 210,000.
But the numbers can only begin to outline the magnitude of the effort, and behind every statistic is the grim reality that real men with real flesh and blood had to fight for every inch on the way to Berlin and eventual victory.
Our debt, our children’s debt and their children’s debt to them and their brothers who fought on the beaches and in the jungles of the Pacific can never be repaid. We owe them everything.
All we can say on this day, all these years later, is: Thank you.