Eyes of the world were upon them
In the winter of 1943, Adolf Hitler knew, at some point, Europe would be invaded by the allies along the coast of France. He tasked his top general, Erwin Rommel, to oversee establishing defenses along the coastline, although he had no knowledge of where a strike might occur.
Rommel went to work on what became a 2,400-mile line of bunkers, landmines and beach obstacles that was known as the Atlantic Wall.
By June 1944, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was commander of Operation Overlord. Through his military genius, the allied forces were able to carry out a series of deceptive operations — secret agents, phony radio transmissions, even a bold ruse creating a phantom army commanded by Gen. George Patton — to convince the enemy that an invasion would target Pas-de-Calais, the nearest point across the channel between England and France.
June 5, 1944 was the original date of invasion, but weather caused a full day’s delay. As the invasion set out across the channel on June 6, Eisenhower told his troops, “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.”
Although we did not have the instant communications we have today, the eyes and ears of concerned Americans at home eventually learned that more than 5,000 ships and landing craft and more than 11,000 aircraft were employed to provide air cover and support for the allied troops who would storm Normandy. By dawn, thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The amphibious invasions by allies began at beaches codenamed Gold, Juno and Sword. Americans hit Utah Beach and faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were more than 2,000 American casualties. By day’s end, approximately 156,000 allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. Although precise figures may never be known, some estimates conclude more than 4,000 allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.
By June 11, the beaches were secured by some 326,000 troops, 50,000 vehicles and hundreds of tons of supporting equipment.
Allied forces fought across Normandy, air attacks knocking out key bridges and naval support protecting the advancing forces. By the end of June, the Allies captured the vital port of Cherbourg and by the end of August, now grizzled combat veterans were crossing the Seine and walking the streets of a liberated Paris.
Next stop: The heart of Germany.
The Normandy Invasion was the beginning of the end of World War II on the continent of Europe. It broke the Nazis’ backs and spirits. By spring 1945, Hitler was dead by his own hand and the unconditional surrender of Germany was accepted
The D-Day invasion was the largest modern-day amphibious military assault in history. It required precise planning, flawless execution, and the bravery and loyalty of the men and women who put their lives on the line to see it through.
Had this great invasion not been successful, the entire course of the war could have gone in a different direction. Hitler would have had more time to develop his new weapons — the V1 and V2 rockets, the jet fighter plane — and the atomic bomb.
But thanks to the courage of the thousands of Allied troops who wrote D-Day into the history books, we were able to prevail and free Europe from the oppression of the Nazis and protect the world from their deadly tentacles.
Nearly seven decades removed, we can only offer continued thanks on this anniversary of D-Day for every individual who was a part it and for the many sacrifices made. Of the ones who survived that hell on earth and the ones who celebrated that victorious operation from the home front, their number dwindles with every passing day.
But we should always remember what occurred that day, when the actions of thousands of Americans gave our nation hope that we can endure any hurdle.
— From the New Bern Sun Journal
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