Today is the 74th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Northern France. It marked the turning point in a war that had been largely a one-sided assault by the German war machine. German forces appeared unstoppable utilizing the latest in tactical methods and weaponry. German military leaders developed modern-day warfare, commonly referred to as Blitzkrieg (lightning war). In contrast to the trench warfare of World War I, this type of military strategy was characterized by concentrating air and ground forces in a narrow location. By striking quickly and decisively they could disorganize and defeat defenders permitting German forces to capture large segments of foreign soil with minimal losses. The plan to liberate Europe was devised over many months and was labeled Operation Overlord. The amphibious invasion was the keystone to driving out German forces and was given the code name Operation Neptune. The planning included timing the landing date to coincide with a full moon when tides would be at their peak. High tides would minimize beach exposure for landing forces and a full moon would also improve visibility for naval and air bombardment of the coastline. As luck would have it, however, the weather did not cooperate and visibility was poor and seas were rough. Numerous landing craft were lost and others drifted off course. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel who was placed in charge of coastal defenses built extensive fortifications on bluffs overlooking the beaches. He mined the shores, and littered the beach with barbed wire and wood and steel impediments to slow troop advances. The heaviest Allied casualties occurred at Omaha beach where fortifications were most extensive. Simultaneous landings took place at other French beaches: Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword. The amphibious invasion was preceded by heavy bombardment and parachute assault behind enemy lines.
Anyone who has seen the movie, “Saving Private Ryan” can appreciate the horrors of that fateful day. The landings covered some 850 miles of beach and included 156,000 assault troops. Allied forces suffered over 10,000 casualties and 4,400 deaths in a single tragic day. It is difficult to imagine what those forces witnessed that day but I’m sure they suffered post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before it came to be known as that. When you realize the courage, devotion and duty demonstrated 74 years ago it is unconscionable for anyone to disrespect the American flag. The proximity of Memorial Day to D-Day is fitting because the entire world owes a debt of gratitude for the sacrifices of June 6, 1944. The U.S. and world will remain free of tyranny only if we continue to have good men and women willing to serve in our armed forces. This is truly the land of the free because of the brave!