It is the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the assault on the beaches of Normandy, France, where 160,000 Allied soldiers clawed their way through Nazi-occupied strongholds and began the liberation of Europe. On Monday, go to your local library and check out Cornelius Ryan’s classic account of that terrible event, The Longest Day.
There is still no accurate count of the number of soldiers who were killed on that first day, but estimates run from 2,500 to 5,000. So fierce was the fighting and so difficult the conditions that bodies simply disappeared, swept away by the waves, blown to pieces, lost in the confusion of the movement of men and equipment.
By the 25th of July, when the Allies were finally able to break out of Normandy and advance on the rest of France, they had suffered more than 209,000 casualties, including nearly 54,000 killed. Such numbers stagger the mind. These soldiers, sailors and aviators were young. Most were barely out of high school. A great many had left behind families and careers. Most had never been outside of the United States before. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose, but they answered the call of their country and laid down their lives so that Europe could be set free once again.
How very different the world would be today if so many young men and women had not joined the struggle to reverse the evil that Adolf Hitler had unleashed on Europe.
How can we, who have benefited so lavishly from their sacrifices, ever adequately honor what they did to alter history, to preserve liberty, and to restore justice to a period of terrible human suffering?
We can remember. And, we can make the same promise to the dead and wounded that the Jews have made to their millions of lost kinsmen: Never again.
Read Ryan’s book, then try to imagine the world as it might have been had June 6, 1944 never happened.