Seventy-five years ago today, German soldiers occupying the northern coast of France looked out to sea and saw an ominous — and for many, their last — sight: the United States Navy and other allied ships, filling the horizon as far as the eye could see.
D-Day was arguably our military’s greatest single triumph, but it was also one of its most costly. More than 4,000 U.S. soldiers died on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. It was a horrific event unlike anything we can possibly imagine, filled with explosions, chaos, and death.
It’s impossible to fathom what was going through the minds of those men as they waded through the shallow waters on the French coastline toward what many expected would be their demise.
“You get your ass on the beach,” Colonel Paul R. Goode, in a pre-attack briefing to the 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, told soldiers in a pre-attack briefing. “I’ll be there waiting for you and I’ll tell you what to do. There ain’t anything in this plan that is going to go right.”
Even when ashore, the violence had only just started. “They’re murdering us here. Let’s move inland and get murdered,” Colonel Charles D. Canham, 116th Infantry Regiment commander, famously remarked on Omaha Beach.
The battle was a turning point in the worst war the world has ever seen. Allied forces wrested control of France from the Germans and laid the foundations for victory on the Western Front. A year later, the war was over.
On this day, we salute the United States Navy and all of the armed forces who gave it all to take one strip of desolate beach, and forever change the world for the better.
“They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said when he announced the invasion. “They fight to liberate.”
“I don’t feel that I’m any kind of hero. To me, the work had to be done,” said Private First Class Joe Lesniewski. “I was asked to do it. So I did. When I lecture kids I tell them the same thing.”