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Posted on Jun 7, 2007 in Carlo D'Este, Front Page Features

Two Days to Remember

By Carlo D'Este

Another important date will attract far less attention. June 6, 2007 marks the 63rd anniversary of one of the most momentous days of the twentieth century, June 6, 1944: D-Day — the date the Allies launched the invasion of Normandy. The invasion of France marked the beginning of the decisive western battle of the Second World War. Unlike the large celebrations that mark each ten-year anniversary, this anniversary tends to pass relatively unnoticed, except by those who remember.

Some of you will remember D-Day; others of you were not yet born. You may well ask, what does all this mean to me?  Had it failed the world we live in today would be vastly different. The war would have lasted until at least 1946, would have been far more costly in lives, and probably would have ended with the employment of the atomic bomb, not on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but on Germany.


On June 6, 1944, France was enduring the 1,453d day of German Occupation, when 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops launched the greatest battle for freedom ever fought. They came by glider and parachuted from aircraft in the dead of night. They landed by sea along fifty-miles of Normandy beaches, from more than 4,000 landing craft in the early morning hours of June 6 through the overcast and rough waters, amid hails of gunfire. Most were barely out of their teens. Those who survived will tell you that they expected to die that day. One of the two American beaches was called Omaha, and that morning it became the most deadly place on Earth.   

Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944

Many drowned in the rough seas; others were cut down by fire from atop the steep bluffs overlooking the beach. It was absolute bedlam, and for some hours it appeared Omaha could not be held. Then an extraordinary thing happened. American GIs, ranging from private to general took matters into their own hands and sometimes individually or in small groups they rallied. And after many hours of bloody fighting they triumphed. They held Omaha and by so doing not only insured that the invasion would succeed, but that the war would be won. It was a triumph of courage over fear. And it made a liar out of Adolf Hitler who had boasted that American citizen-soldiers were too soft and untrained to best his exalted Wehrmacht.

On Utah Beach, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. won a Medal of Honor for his heroics on D-Day. His men quickly realized if a general could unflinchingly face combat waving a cane, so too could they. In no other nation could you find the son of a president and ordinary soldiers making common cause on a battlefield.

Their commanding general, Omar Bradley, called Omaha a "nightmare" and after the war returned often to honor those who died there. He said: "They should never be forgotten. Nor should those who lived to carry the day by the slimmest of margins. Every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero." 6,603 Americans became casualties on D-Day; 1,465 were killed in action, and another 1,928 were missing in action, the remainder were wounded.

Atop those same bluffs where the bitterest fighting took place there is now a place of peace and tranquility. It is the American military cemetery where 9,386 American servicemen are buried and where there is a memorial to another 1,557 MIAs whose remains have never been found. It is no coincidence that the simple white crosses and Stars of David all face westward, toward America. This place eloquently explains why we must never forget our past.    

The U.S. military cemetery in Normandy

The D-Day landings were more than just about liberating France. They were the key to ending the most devastating war in the history of mankind, a war, that the historian, John Keegan, notes, “fought across six of the world’s seven continents, and all its oceans. It killed fifty million human beings, left hundreds of millions of others wounded in mind or body and materially devastated much of the heartland of civilization. It was “the single largest event in human history.” (7)

Although we sometimes take it for granted, the most precious thing we have is our freedom. However, from veterans we often hear the question: in the future will anyone even remember their extraordinary sacrifices? There can be but one answer, which I address to future generations: You must continue to carry the torch of remembrance. It must never be extinguished.

In this age of mindless terrorism on an international scale, the sacrifice made by our veterans looms larger than ever. At our peril, we as a nation must never forget the sacrifices of the men and women who have answered the call of duty. Those who fought in World War II have been called the Greatest Generation. That they were great and what they accomplished is beyond question. There are – in fact – a number of “greatest generations.” We have been blessed with generations of Americans, both prior to and since that momentous war, that have also answered the call of duty.

Thankfully, there are many others like Sid Chase and Glen Beasley across America that make certain we will never forget any of them.

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