Remembering the 80th Anniversary of Normandy

Shared by Four Seasons Chaplain & Navy Veteran, Michael Wermuth

On June 6, 1944, (80 years ago) the United States and her Allies invaded Normandy in the greatest military invasion in history.

The seaborne invasion force included 7,000 ships, and landing craft manned by over 195,000 naval personnel from 8 nations. Codenamed Operation Overlord and often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history. The operation began the liberation of France (and later Western Europe) and laid the foundations of the Allied victory on the Western Front against Nazi Germany.

Planning for the operation began in 1943. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, codenamed Operation Bodyguard, to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. The weather on D-Day was far from ideal, and the operation had to be delayed 24 hours; a further postponement would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days each month were deemed suitable. Adolf Hitler placed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in command of German forces and of developing fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower in command of Allied forces.

The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 American, British, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armored divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using specialized tanks. Allied casualties were documented for at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. These brave soldiers, marines, sailors, coast guardsmen, and airmen who served during World War II gave the last full measure of devotion to bring liberty and freedom to the world.

“In 2002 I was fortunate enough to visit Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, the location for the greatest military invasion in history. On June 6th, we will remember the 80th anniversary of that enormous undertaking to land 24,000 allied troops who fought to gain a foothold in Europe against the Nazi regime, and where over 4,000 gave the last full measure of devotion by laying down their lives to deliver the world from the tyranny of Nazi Germany. As I walked up and down that hallowed ground, made sacred by the blood shed by these brave men, I contemplated what it means to stand up for others. At its peak, Nazi Germany commanded a 9.5 million-man army, air force, and navy, ruling over all of Europe except for Great Brittian, an area over 320 million square miles. Nazi social and economic exploitation of these territories was ruthless. They treated the population, in accordance with Nazi teaching, as inferior races fit only to serve as slaves. Forced laborers were imprisoned in concentration camps, where disease, malnutrition, and brutal treatment by guards claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Frequent manhunts were carried out in occupied territories to round up the undesirables for deportation to Germany where over 11 million (6 million of which were Jews), were systematically slaughtered.

The Normandy invasion was the righteous response to such evil. Words cannot adequately express what it meant to stand on that venerated beach, to contemplate the unfathomable peril they faced as they fought for every inch through sand and surf, as bullets and bombs rained down on them. The rows upon rows of graves mark the breadth of their sacrifice. For those still with us, they are approaching the century mark. These heroes deserve to be highly esteemed and commemorated for their courage and sacrifice on that historic day,” closes Chaplain Wermuth.

 

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