They came from cities and farms and all the places in between in the United States, Great Britain, Canada and their allies such as France, Poland, Norway and the Netherlands. They filled the largest armada in history 70 years ago today to invade the beaches of France.
Before June 6, 1944, had ended, about 2,500 U.S. solders had been killed, along with more than 1,900 of their allies. No good estimates exist for the number of German or French civilians left dead in the battle’s wake.
The invasion marked the beginning of the end for Germany. Americans also were fighting hard in Italy, and the Allies already had driven the Germans out of North Africa.
Men such as Danville’s Lex Samaras knew they were part of an awesome undertaking, and one that would decide whether the war might end soon or linger for years. With the success at Normandy, the war in Europe ended in 11 months.
The end of the fighting did not come easily. Many battles — and many casualties — waited in the future for soldiers on both sides of the Normandy beaches. But this invasion 70 years ago today truly marked the beginning of the end for the Axis powers.
The many of us who were not alive during the World War II years can only watch scratchy films and read about the sacrifices many both by those in uniform and those still here at home during that conflict. We can only hope, should the need ever arise again, that we could find the courage and the dedication the WWII generation displayed.
Most of the veterans of that day are gone now. Those who remain are in their 90s. But their effort that day, and the many other days they put their lives on the line to defend the freedom of the United States and its allies, will never be forgotten no matter how many years may pass.