Today is the 71st anniversary of one of the most important events of the Second World War — D-Day. 71 years ago, the Western allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, intent on liberating France from the fascist death grip that had held it for four years. The Soviet forces were tearing into the Nazi forces in Eastern Europe, pushing them back, and once the British, Americans, and Canadians landed in Normandy on D-Day, the Reich was well and truly doomed.
D-Day was to be an exceptionally bloody day. By the time D-Day was over, 10,000 allied troops and 9,000 Germans would be dead. The anniversary is always a poignant day. Survivors make yearly pilgrimages back to the beaches that saw so much devastation over the course of D-Day, with one even busting out of his nursing home to do it. This year’s anniversary is no exception.
The Guardian reports that about 150 British veterans returned to Normandy to pay their respects and commemorate the anniversary. Speaking to the Guardian, 90-year-old Len Fox recalled his memories of the D-Day landings, and paid his respects to those who died that day.
“As a 19-year-old, I had never left home. It was very scary because we didn’t know whether we were going to see our parents the next day, or even if we were going to survive D-day. I was one of the lucky ones. I regard the lads who are buried in the cemeteries, they are the real heroes. We just had a job to do.”
Remembering D-Day On Its 71st Anniversary
US Troops Approaching Omaha Beach
US Troops approach Omaha Beach on D-Day.
US Bomber Crews Returned From D-Day Missions
Crew members from B-26 Marauders return from a raid on German troops on June 7.
American troops stand with bayonets ready on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Convoy crossing the channel
A convoy of landing craft cross the English Channel, with barrage balloons to aid against air attack.
Ships at Omaha Beach
Ships supported by barrage balloons at Omaha Beach.
Associated Press reports that American veterans and naval cadets attended a ceremony at the cemetery close to Omaha Beach to mark the anniversary. Some of those who didn’t make the journey for D-Day’s anniversary have been telling their stories to local newspapers, such as Charles Maupin of Columbus, Georgia. He recalled the horror of landing the day after D-Day, June 7, for the Ledger-Enquirer.
“I landed on the beach and saw all the bodies laying on the beach, rows and rows of bodies of soldiers just covered with their ponchos.”
The Canadian forces enjoyed the greatest success out of the nations that landed on D-Day. Landing at Juno Beach, between the two British beaches of Sword and Gold, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade, accompanied by the British No. 48 Commando unit, pushed to within just 3 miles of the town of Caen, a distance of some 10 miles.
Letters from a Canadian sergeant and cameraman, Hugh McCaughey, have recently been donated to the Canadian War Museum, CBC reports. In one letter, McCaughey told of how German prisoners captured in Normandy seemed happy to leave the war behind.
“Yesterday and today we made movies of German prisoners who laugh into your camera, and almost all of them carry a valise or bundle with their possessions, they seem happy to be out of it.”
France has honored D-Day veterans by awarding them the Legion D’Honneur, France’s highest decoration, awarding the medal to any surviving veterans.
D-Day was only the beginning of Operation Overlord, the Normandy Campaign of World War 2, yet the landings were of pivotal importance in and of themselves. D-Day was the start of the assault on Western Europe. Just months later, Paris would fall, and the war in Europe was over in under a year. D-Day is what started it all.
D-Day will never be forgotten. As long as the Second World War is remembered, D-Day’s anniversary will be honored. As the British poet Laurence Binyon wrote in 1914.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
For D-Day, on this anniversary, and on its anniversary for many years to come, such is certainly true.
[Photos by Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Three Lions/Getty Images, Fred Ramage/Keystone/Getty Images, Unidentified Photographer/US Coast Guard, US National Archives/Wikipedia]