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May 25, 2004 > D-Day - Sacrifice Remembered

D-Day - Sacrifice Remembered

by Susana Nuñez

Every year, Americans recognize and celebrate patriotic historical events including soon to be observed Memorial Day and Independence Day. June 6th, "D-Day," a pivotal date in U.S. and world history, is less celebrated yet equally important. Some citizens not only remember the day, but participated in the Allied armed forces operation while others may view it as simply a page of a history book. Just as the date September 11, 2001 is indelibly stamped on the minds of most Americans, previous conflicts have also been monumental and their remembrance is a time for sober reflection.

The Allied invasion of Normandy, called "D-Day," marked the beginning of the end of German control of Europe. World War II had been raging in Europe for five years, with mixed results until the Battle of Stalingrad marked a turn in the Allies favor. The Soviet Army was advancing through Eastern Europe and the time had arrived for the liberation of a suppressed Western Europe. The Allied response was the largest amphibious assault in the history of war. On June 6, 1944, hundreds of Allied ships were used to transport soldiers, vehicles, and supplies from Britain to invade German-held French territory across the English Channel.

Three Allied airborne divisions were dropped in German territory just hours before the amphibious landings were to commence. The task for these soldiers was to secure roads and bridges necessary for advancing troops from the beaches. To prepare landing areas for troops on transport ships, a massive bombardment from both air and sea was necessary. Between the hours of 0300 and 0500 on the morning of June 6, over 1,000 British aircraft dropped more than 5,000 tons of bombs on the German defenses and beaches. Official British history describes the effects of the preliminary attack saying, "Never has any coast suffered what a tortured strip of French coast suffered that morning: both naval and air bombardments were unparalleled."

H-Hour had arrived. Bombardment stopped and amphibious ships moved towards the beach to deposit their cargo of men and vehicles. At approximately 0700, the first ships hit five beaches and over 86,000 soldiers swarmed out of them. The cost of human life was staggering; of all the beaches, the most resistant was the area labeled, "Omaha." Bombardment had been less effective at this beach due to its rough terrain. Omaha consisted of steep bluffs and heavy defenses with defenses largely unscathed by preliminary air and sea attack. Heavy seas added problems to the already difficult assault on the well-defended territory. A "death trap" was the result for American soldiers trying to secure the area. Colonel George A. Taylor, stated, "Two kinds of people are staying on this beach, the dead and those who are about to die." The brutal fighting that occurred in an attempt to take Omaha Beach resulted in the death of over 2,000 Americans.

After the first two weeks of the Normandy invasion, two ports were opened to the Allies providing a way for equipment and soldiers to move into France to back up the original Allied force. The invasion of Normandy was the beginning of the Allied advance that would eventually end the war with Germany.

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