By Douglas V. Gibbs
Author, Speaker, Instructor, Radio Host

On June 6, 1944, in the dead of early morning darkness, 18,000 British and American troops parachuted into Normandy, France.  13,000 aircraft, and a massive wave of naval support, were utilized to provide air cover for the coming invasion.  Key bridges were destroyed, leaving the Germans few escape routes.  Shortly after dawn, at 6:30 am, the amphibious portion of the invasion began.  American troops came ashore at two of the five beaches that were targeted, Utah and Omaha.  British and Canadian troops captured Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches. Omaha beach proved to be the toughest, with rough weather conditions, and a strong German coastal defense, but the Americans persevered, and in the end all five beaches were captured. 
Military leaders recognized the risk, they knew the cost in lives would be high, but the cost was necessary, they believed.  Germany had been pounding Britain with bombing runs and the allies had no stronghold in Western Europe.  If the allies were going to be able to have a chance to win the war in Europe they needed to establish a stronghold on the mainland.
By dusk the five beaches were secured, and 155,000 allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.  From that point the allies pushed inward, and by the end of three months they had forced German forces out of Northern France.  At the end of June, the allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across Europe.  Meanwhile, the Soviets were working their way towards Germany from the east.
The first allied cemetery in Europe was dedicated only two days after the Normandy Invasion.  D-Day dead were buried June 8, 1944, and at the National D-Day Memorial Foundation in Bedford, Virginia, it is estimated that 4,414 allied lives were lost during the gruesome D-Day invasion.  German casualties are believed to be anywhere between 4,000 and 9,000 killed, wounded or missing.  About 200,000 were captured as prisoners of war.

75 years later, June 5, 2019, President Donald J. Trump joined fellow European leaders and Queen Elizabeth II to honor those troops who lost their lives through the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day.  As the leaders gathered to pay their respects, American and British paratroopers dropped into northwestern France and scaled cliffs beside Normandy beaches, recreating the daring, costly invasion that helped liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

A few hundred World War II veterans, all in their 90s, attended an international ceremony in Portsmouth (the English port city from where many of the troops embarked for Normandy on June 5, 1944).  The U.K.’s queen, 93 years old, served as an army mechanic during the war.

“The heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten,” the monarch said. “It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country — indeed the whole free world — that I say to you all, thank you.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also attended the event with the European leaders, revealing Europe’s postwar reconciliation and transformation.

President Trump read a prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered in a radio address on June 6, 1944, extolling the “mighty endeavor” Allied troops were engaged in.

British Prime Minister Theresa May read a letter written by Captain Norman Skinner of the Royal Army Service Corps to his wife, Gladys, on June 3, 1944, a few days before the invasion. He was killed the day after D-Day.

“Although I would give anything to be back with you, I have not yet had any wish at all to back down from the job we have to do,” he wrote.

French President Emmanuel Macron read from a letter sent by a young resistance fighter, Henri Fertet, before he was executed at the age of 16 years old.

“I am going to die for my country. I want France to be free and the French to be happy,” it said.

The ceremony ended with singer Sheridan Smith performing the wartime hit “We’ll Meet Again,” as many of the elderly assembled veterans sang along.

Then WWII Spitfire and Hurricane fighter jets, modern-day Typhoons and the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows aerobatic unit swooped over the dignitaries, veterans and large crowd of spectators.

Tomorrow the focus of the commemorations will shift.  Events will be held at simple military cemeteries near the Normandy beaches. Some 300 British veterans will cross the Channel by boat to the beaches overnight, just as they did 75 years ago.

Events in France began early Wednesday morning with U.S. Army Rangers climbing the jagged limestone cliffs of Normandy’s Pointe du Hoc to honor the men who scaled them under fire 75 years ago.

Elsewhere in Normandy parachutists jumped from C-47 transporters in WWII colors and other aircraft, aiming for fields of wild flowers on the outskirts of Carentan, one of the early objectives for Allied troops.

Among the jumpers was American D-Day veteran Tom Rice, 97. He jumped into Normandy with thousands of other parachutists in 1944 and recalled it as “the worst jump I ever had.”

Thanks to the efforts of those courageous souls in 1944 the allies pushed their way all the way to Berlin by April of 1945, shortly after the Russians arrived, ultimately leading to the surrender of Nazi Germany, and the war in Europe.  Four months later Japan agreed to surrender, ending the war in the Pacific, and officially bringing World War II to a close.

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