In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944 nearly 5,000 ships crowded the English Channel off the French coast of Normandy. At 6:30 am landing craft carrying the first waves of what, by the end of the day, would include some 160,000 men started making their way through the high seas towards the European mainland and the Germans waiting for them behind Adolf Hitlers vaunted 'Atlantic Wall'. The men charging these beaches would join some 24,000 others which had already been dropped into combat via airborne assault, behind the German lines, to disrupt communication and reinforcements. The 50 mile stretch of Normandy coastline had been divided up into five 'beaches'...designated Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah, and Omaha. Gold and Sword would be assaulted by troops from the United Kingdom, Juno would be primarily be the responsibility of the Canadians, while the United States would attack Utah and Omaha. Operation Overlord, which the landing operations were code-named, would be the largest amphibious assault the world had (and has) ever known. Twelve nations supplied men and/or materiel towards the invasion. It was a battle in which, quite literally, the fate of the world hinged.
The amphibious and airborne invasion of June 6th is known to most simply as 'D-Day'. From a military viewpoint, however, that nomenclature is a bit vague to say the least. You see, D-Day is a military term which means 'Designated Day'...as in such-and-such a day is the designated day for the attack. There were quite literally hundreds of D-Day's in World War 2 alone. The scale of the assault and the war winning (or losing) stakes for which this attack was made, however, resulted in this particular D-Day forever being known as the D-Day. As we all know now the Normandy Invasion was incredibly successful and signaled the imminent demise of Hitler's Third Reich. The cost was steep though, with over 4,000 men killed in action that first day and another 60,000 over the following two months of the Normandy Campaign.
The National D-Day Memorial commemorates the herculean effort which made the Normandy Invasion possible as well as the unimaginable sacrifice and bravery shown by those who had to fight to make it a success. In fact the site of the Memorial, the small town of Bedford, Virginia, was chosen because of the steep toll exacted on this community in particular during the invasion. Bedford in the 1940's was a community of around 3,000 people. On the morning of June 6th, forty-four of its sons were on ships, piloting or parachuting out of planes, or riding one of the many landing craft headed for the beaches. By the end of the day a staggering TWENTY would lay dead. Bedford, Virginia therefore had the dubious and heart-wrenching distinction of having the highest casualty rate per-capita of any town in the United States on D-Day. It therefore was the obvious location of choice when the National D-Day Memorial was constructed in the late-1990's. Today the privately-owned memorial stands as, in my opinion, one of the finest war memorials in the nation. Simple in design yet incredibly poignant and thought-provoking, the memorial is a fantastic tribute to the service men and women who, in General Eisenhower's words, 'embarked' on this 'Great Crusade.'
Come along with me as I explore this magnificent site...
Allied Expeditionary Force
Nations Involved: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, United Kingdom, United States
Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, General Dwight David Eisenhower (U.S.A.)
Casualties (D-Day alone): 4,413 killed; over 16,000 wounded, missing, or captured
Casualties (Normandy Campaign): ~53,000 killed; over 150,000 wounded, missing, or captured
Armies Engaged: 7th Army, 5th Panzer Army
Oberbefehlshaber West (Supreme Commander West): Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
Casualties (D-Day alone): ~4,000-9,000 killed, wounded, missing, or captured
Casualties (Normandy Campaign): 440,000+ killed, wounded, missing, or captured