The need for Allied forces to prevail in Operation Overlord in 1944 could not be overstated.
Turning back the inexorable assault of the German military against the free nations of Europe was crucial to ending World War II. Everything done in the European theater of battle led to this pivotal moment: Establishing a beachhead in Normandy.
The question of when to begin this huge undertaking had fluctuated almost up to the last moment. And then Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of all Allied forces, threw caution to the wind and set the date for this operation: June 6, D-Day.
The Allies sent about 156,000 troops to Normandy that day 70 years ago, more than 73,000 of whom were Americans. Of the U.S. troops involved in D-Day, 34,250 landed on Omaha Beach while 23,500 landed on Utah Beach and 15,500 came in through the air.
Nearly 2,500 Americans died on D-Day along with more than 1,900 from all other Allied nations. Total German casualties are believed to be about 10,500, although the estimated number of dead is unknown.
Operation Overlord continued for several months. By the end of August 1944, more than 3 million Allied troops were in France.
It’s extraordinary to contemplate the fact that gaining momentum to end the war in Europe rested so heavily on this day. The pressure that Gen. Eisenhower felt to see the Allied troops succeed must have been enormous.
What if the weather worsened and more troops were lost at sea? What if the Germans had been better prepared for an Allied landing at Normandy rather than the suspected site of Calais? What if more airborne troops missed their targets and became trapped by German forces?
While the Germans were caught off guard by the Normandy invasion, the fighting was still hellacious. But despite the intense gunfire and the shelling, the confusion and the carnage, something compelled Allied troops to keep advancing.
The survivors of D-Day are dwindling, and we are poorer for their absence. We owe it to them to take time on this 70th anniversary to recall their courage and sacrifice.
The real tragedy of the human condition is that the losses suffered throughout World War II are necessary from time to time to repel oppressive ideologies. The least we can do to honor all those involved in D-Day is to strive for a universal peace, ensuring no one again has to confront either the evil of war or the evil of tyranny.