70 years ago: A monumental day

70 years ago: A monumental day

Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, and I’m continuing my series of posts on this monumental event that turned the tide of WWI. I hope you’ll take a few moments today to pause and remember.

D-Day is about far more than numbers, but the numbers must be considered to convey the magnitude of the event. Now that General Eisenhower had given the order to launch the invasion, more than 5,000 Allied ships headed across the English channel to the Normandy coast of France. They carried 156,000 invasion troops, 8,000 doctors, 600,000 doses of penicillin, 100,000 pounds of sulfa, and 800,000 pints of plasma to treat the wounded. The men carried 170 million maps covering every aspect of the invasion that had been produced by the British War Office. The invasion force — the largest in human history — was supported by 7,000 planes. When the troops landed on the beach on the morning of June 6, they faced withering machine gun fire and shelling from the heavily fortified German bunkers and gun emplacements. Allied casualties on the first awful day were between 10,000 and 12,000, with more than 4,400 killed.

By the end of that historic day, more than 135,000 Allied ground troops and 23,000 airborne troops were on French soil, in Normandy. And by the next day, June 7, ashore on the beach, almost as far as the eye could see, were troops trudging up its steep slopes and inland toward combat. Ike had arrived by ship by this time and, watching from the ship,  was astonished at the magnitude of what he had unleashed … never before or since has there been such a sight.” Later he wrote to his wife, Mamie: “We’ve started … The soldiers, sailors, and airmen are indescribable in their courage, determination, and fortitude.  They inspire me.”

June 6, 1944, was not only one of the most extraordinary days in American history, it is one of the turning points in human history. If D-Day had not been successful, the world — in the words of one historian — “would have descended into the abyss.” Back home, news of the landings spread across the nation very quickly. Church bells tolled, stores closed, Broadway shows and sporting events were called off as Americans in record numbers flocked to churches.

France was entering its 1,453rd day of German occupation, and finally, deliverance was at hand. It would take much more time, but the assault on Hitler’s Fortress Europe had begun with a thunderclap heard around the world.