Remembering D-Day: 6/6/44
During the night of June 5/6, 1944, thousands of naval vessels of every shape, size, and function set sail from England, heading toward the beaches of Normandy. The initial troop landings were horrific, with a very high casualty rate, as dramatized all-too-vividly by the movie Saving Private Ryan. In spite of extensive preparations, and clear superiority in terms of airpower, seapower, manpower, and materiel, the Allies were at a big disadvantage because of the German fortifications and beach obstacles all along the English Channel coast of Northern France.
In retrospect, the victory over the Nazi occupiers seems almost inevitable, but for those who were there at the time, it was a hellish, confusing bloodbath that could have gone either way. Only because enough American, British, and Canadian soldiers valued the cause they were serving more than their own lives did the liberating armies gain a foothold on the Normandy coast that allowed reinforcements to be brought in. After the first day, 150,000 Allied soldiers were ashore, and this number climbed steadily in the weeks that followed, paving the way for the ultimate defeat of Hitler. That's what D-Day was.
To keep things in perspective, 64 years later, let's also remember that more Allied soldiers died on the beaches on D-Day alone than the total number of American combat deaths in Iraq thus far -- about 4,000. The war and counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq have lasted over five years, which means just over two American fatalities per day.
It's hard to drive home the importance of that landmark historical event. Today as I was writing a check at WalMart and noting the date, the checkout lady mentioned D-Day without any prompting from me. She has a brother and father who served in the military, so that matters to her. It really made my day.
Those who care about the sacrifices that were made in the cause of freedom should visit the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. It was built there because that town suffered a higher proportion of combat deaths relative to its total population than any other community in the United States. They were troops of the 29th Infantry Division (National Guard), which still operates today, with one of the brigade headquarters located right here in Staunton.