Five beaches, codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Massive, complex operations from air and sea. More than 100,000 tons of supplies, 7,000 ships and boats, 11,000 airplanes, and over 160,000 Allied servicemen, mostly American, Canadian and English. More than 24,000 paratroopers, augmented by dummies strapped into parachutes and dropped. Tens of thousands of men crammed into hundreds of open boats that got as close to the beaches as they could.
The story of the battle to establish a foothold in German-occupied France played out on a huge scale, and remains the largest land, sea and air battle ever launched. It marked the turning point in the battle to reclaim Europe.
It can be argued that the world was saved that day, and in the five that followed. The Normandy invasion was launched despite serious concerns about the weather, and many of the complex plans went awry — a large number of paratroopers weren’t able to hit their drop zones or secure their targets. Hundreds of landing vessels sank or could not get close to shore, forcing sailors to wade through chest-deep water rather than storm up onto the beach and exposing them to longer, more sustained barrages of enemy fire and bombs.
Still, dozens of targets slowly, inevitably fell as the Allied troops kept coming.
This is what history books will tell you about this day, 75 years ago, and about the Allied victories that slowly, painfully flowered from that first hard-fought, many-layered attack.
But the ones who can tell us what it was really like — the ones who came back bearing scars on their bodies and souls, with the sounds of gunfire and the screams of their fallen comrades ringing in their ears — they are all but lost. Their stories have been preserved in video, on paper and in photographs. But when the last of them slips away, those young men who were 17, 18 or 19 on June 6, 1944, and who are in their 90s now, this nation will have lost something precious.
We will have lost the ones who know the fearsome swirl of those battles, even if they didn’t grasp (at least not then) the enormity of what they were caught up in. The ones who watched as men in front of them fell, and still waded through blood-red waters and into enemy fire. The ones who endured as the war raged on across France.
Within a year, Europe would be liberated at a terrible cost. They and their fallen comrades were the ones who paid it.
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we were glad to see so many commemorating it. And we are deeply grateful for the great men who were not included in the most harrowing figures of all: The 4,414 Allied troops confirmed dead in the Normandy invasion. Because their story should be remembered. And we thank them for telling it.
This editorial originally appeared in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.