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D-Day and storming Normandy, 60 years ago

by Tech Sgt. J.R. Foster
6th Air Mobility Wing historian
File photo

Operation Overlord was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken before or since June 6, 1944. The landing included more than 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes and more than 150,000 service men.

Most of us can't begin to imagine the horror and devastation troops faced on that famous day. American, allied and enemy soldiers screamed out in shear anguish as bullets ripped through flesh and bone, pierced into steel ships like soda cans, while mortar rounds exploded like thunder overhead. For those who were there, the memories are as clear as if it was yesterday. Today the closest most of us can come to the realism of that horror is through movies, books and the barrage of information available on the internet.

As with any operation, Overlord didn't just happen. It wasn't a fluke, something that someone dreamed about one night then executed the next morning. Many details had to be finitely planned before the operation was to be executed. Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, European Invasion Forces commander, with the assistance of his top advisors, spent hours, days and even months planning the invasion.

So why June 6? What was so special about that day? Surprisingly enough, it all came down to the weather. After consulting with meteorologists, General Eisenhower concluded the best time to carry out Operation Overlord would be between June 5 and 7. During those dates, weather forecasters predicted there would be a late rising moon that would provide cover. The seas would be calm and there would be a mild breeze that would keep smoke clear and expose enemy targets. General Eisenhower felt those factors would enable him the best opportunity to execute such a mission. That in mind, he named June 6, "D-Day."

The terms D-Day and H-Hour are used for the day and hour on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. They designate day and hour for an operation when the actual day and hour have not yet been determined or announced. The letters are derived from the words for which they stand, "D" for the day of the invasion and "H" for the hour the operation actually begins.

U.S. troops along with allies hit the beaches at 6:30 a.m.(H-Hour), carrying out the operation with a mighty force. Many of the first young men (most not yet 20 years old) entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced more than 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection. Blanketed by small-arms fire and bracketed by artillery, they found themselves in hell.

While U.S. and allied forces suffered more than 7,000 killed or wounded in action that number was significantly lower than the 10,000 losses which had been predicted prior to initiation. Yet somehow, due to planning and preparation, and due to the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of the Allied Forces, Fortress Europe had been breached.

June 6, 1944 changed the world. From front-line soldiers to families in hiding, from wives and mothers on the homefront to anxious prisoners in camps, the events of June 6 were simultaneously terrifying, inspiring, sorrowful and joyous. As more and more members of the WW II generation pass on, it becomes increasingly important to preserve their legacy and to give thanks while they still walk among us.

Thousands gathered Sunday to pay tribute to those soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy 60 years ago and honor those veterans who lived to fight another day. Guest speakers, special music, a moving ceremony, and much more were part of this special commemoration in Bedford, Va.

 

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