The Normandy Invasion that opened the Allies great crusade in Europe happened 68 years ago today
an amber light blinked down through the clouds
on the fleet below. Slowly it flashed out
in Morse code three dots and a dash:
V for Victory."
-- Cornelius Ryan
The Longest Day
Posted by John Keller
Soon the engines of thousands of aircraft roared all over England, ready to carry airborne soldiers, tow gliders, haul ammunition and food, drop bombs and shoot bullets to support the Allied invasion of Normandy -- still to this day the largest amphibious military landing in history.
The Normandy invasions of five beaches in Western France on June 6, 1944, opened a western front in Europe during World War II, which not only relieved soldiers of the Soviet Union, who had been slugging it out with forces of Nazi Germany for three years, but also hastened an end to World War II's chapter in Europe. Germany would surrender 11 months later.
More than 550,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing in the Normandy Invasion -- 320,000 Germans, 135,000 Americans, 65,000 British, 18,000 Canadians, and 12,200 French.
Just that number of CASUALTIES is more than three times the total number of soldiers -- Union and Confederate -- who were involved in the Battle of Gettysburg. In one cataclysmic battle, it's almost 90 percent of the total number of American casualties in the entire Civil War.
The books The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan and The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara come to mind, as do Steven Spielberg's movie Saving Private Ryan, and his TV series Band of Brothers, based on the book of the same name by Stephen Ambrose.
In my life I've met and written about veterans of the Normandy Invasion. I sat one afternoon with a former paratrooper from the 101st Airborne Division who parachuted behind the lines early the morning before the first soldiers hit the beaches.
He described such a scene of crying, vomiting, praying paratroopers waiting their turns to jump that morning, flak bursting around them, their faces lit by burning and exploding aircraft close by, that my interview concluded when this brave veteran simply couldn't go on describing the scene.
Another Normandy veteran who went ashore after the first wave showed me a mutilated wallet wrapped in plastic. The wallet was his, and it was mangled by a piece of shrapnel that sliced open his chest during the fighting. He said he could look down and see his beating heart before he lost consciousness.
All of us reading this column will see a day in the not-too-distant future when all the veterans of World War II will be gone. I remember growing up when these veterans seemed like they were on every street corner.
I lost touch with those guys I met who fought at Normandy, and I suspect they have passed on by now; I did those interviews 28 years ago, yet I still think of them from time to time.
Today I'm thinking about them a lot.