You have most likely surmised by now that I’m a history dork, but this day especially marks an important anniversary: D-Day.
On this day in history, June 6, 1944, the Allies began their mission to liberate France from Nazi Germany and begin the march across Europe. I’m sitting here at my computer sipping my coffee and thinking just how different this morning was for the young men who landed in France 79 years ago. It’s really pretty staggering to think about, and I feel overwhelmed with fresh gratitude for those who willingly risk their lives to serve our country. If you get a chance to visit the Normandy coast where D-Day occurred – you must go! My grandfather participated in multiple amphibious landings in World War II, specifically in Italy and North Africa, so the memorial at Normandy was very moving for my family. But it’s really, in my opinion, a must-see for any American or student of history.
The basic facts on D-Day: The mission was delayed for several days due to weather conditions in the English Channel and the moonlight that might affect the American Air Force. The Germans had anticipated the imminent Allied Invasion, but had determined that it was more likely to occur near Calais, where the crossing across the English Channel was narrowest. Nevertheless, German General Erwin Rommel had specifically called for a bulking up of the defenses on the Normandy Coast, just in case. In the early morning hours of June 6, 160,000 Allied troops landed along the 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline. When you go to Normandy today, you can still see the craters in the ground where the Allies bombed beforehand, hoping to soften those defenses. But, when you see the concrete, subterranean bunkers in which the Nazi snipers and troops were ensconced, you see that there were still lots of Germans waiting to mow down the Allies as they stormed ashore.
The international operation was planned and executed by American General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In a message to his men right before they began running willingly into Nazi gunfire, General Eisenhower wrote: “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” The bloodiest locations at the day’s end were Omaha and Utah Beaches, both taken by Americans. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded in the fighting.
I just finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, set in Nazi Germany. At the beginning of each chapter, Zusak tells you the date, and updates you on how a hidden Jewish man is faring. I don’t want to ruin the plot of the book for you, but I will say that I found myself racing through the pages, hoping that the book would speed up and that we would get to June 6, 1944 already. I wanted D-Day to happen, knowing that, once we got there, these characters would have a better chance of surviving the Nazi villains they had to outlast. To see if they make it, you’ll just have to read the book….