On June 6, 1944, in World War II, the Allied soldiers who landed on the Nazi-occupied shores of Normandy faced an immense task that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control. Those beaches saw the landing of more than 15,000 troops carried by 7,000 boats.
This would come to be known as D-Day.
4,414 Allied soldiers would not survive the invasion, and 2,501 of those were our very own fellow Americans. More than 5,000 were wounded.
Today when the sun rises over Omaha Beach, revealing long stretches of wet sand extending toward imposing cliffs in the distance, one starts to grasp the true enormity of what these brave soldiers faced.
Several small ceremonies are scheduled today to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day and honor those who fell that morning at dawn 77 years ago, but for the second year in a row commemorations are severely restricted due to virus travel bans.
Most public events have been canceled, and the official ceremonies are very limited to a small number of selected guests.
Denis van den Brink, a WWII expert, spoke of the “big loss, the big absence is all the veterans who couldn’t travel” in an article with The Associated Press.
“That really hurts us very much because they are all around 95, 100 years old, and we hope they’re going to last forever. But, you know …” he said.
Later today, a ceremony will take place at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, on a bluff overseeing Omaha Beach.
Charles Shay, 96, a Penobscot Native American who now lives in Normandy, is expected to be the only veteran present in person.
Some other veterans will be able to watch the broadcast streamed on social media.
The American cemetery contains over 9,000 grave sites, most of them for servicemen who sacrificed their lives in D-Day attacks and ensuing operations.
Another 1,557 names are inscribed on The Walls of the Missing.
Today, although the few ceremonies held will be small in number, we can do our part to honor those brave troops by remembering these words from author Steven Ambrose,
“At the core, the American soldiers knew the difference between right and wrong, and they didn’t want to live in a world in which wrong prevailed. So they fought, and won, and we, all of us, living and yet to be born, must be forever profoundly grateful.”