Instead of homework or assigned reading, I carried military history around in high school. World War II was my favorite subject. The war’s vastness captivated me; a worldwide struggle, a clear and determined enemy, a fight for the very existence of our way of life. I failed classes outright so I could read and reread “The Longest Day” and “Band of Brothers.” Those books captured the urgency and importance of the D-Day landings, the success of which was not all too clear as the landing crafts roared through the Normandy surf that morning.

Sixty-seven years later, June 6 still towers above the rest of the days on the June calendar. The largest amphibious assault in the history has been recreated in popular culture in films like Saving Private Ryan, and war photographer Robert Capa’s iconic images of the Omaha landings published in LIFE have been seared into our nation’s conscious. These images and films help us remember the tremendous cost borne by the United States military and her allies in an effort to end tyranny on the European continent. American causalities numbered 6,603, with 2,499 lives lost in a single day of fighting. The enormous loss of life and limb was not in vain; a unified beachhead was established, and Allied forces poured in to join the fight against Germany. Normandy marked the beginning of the end for the Axis Powers.

While on leave from Iraq, I spent time walking the invasion beaches up and down the coast and visited the American cemetery there. It was strange to leave one war only to find myself in a place where men also fought and died alongside each other. But history swirled around me, and I finally saw those places I had only read about years earlier. Sixty-seven years later, I remember.

To view photos from D-Day, news articles, General Eisenhower’s famous letter and more, check out the Army’s D-Day history page.

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4 Comments

  1. Livingbattlefield June 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    You are walking in the footsteps of those great men, both as you visit the sites and daily as you serve. Soon, theirs fade while yours continue. Thank you for your service and for helping carry the memories forward!

  2. bob stepno June 12, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Very well said, both your original post and the comments.

    Speaking of history, I recently ran into these archived radio pieces from and about 6/6/44. Along with the newspapers and photos, here’s how radio brought the story home, 50 years before blogs…

    http://jheroes.com/2011/06/06/d-day-real-and-dramatized/

    Imagine how much recorded memory historians will have to sort through fifty years from now!

  3. Michael Donnelly June 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Thank you for writing this article and more importantly for your service. My father and father in-law both went into France through Omaha Beach. My father in-law in the first wave, my father in the second.

    We lost both of them in the 90s and miss them a great deal. My father did share some of what he experienced and the horror these young men experienced is beyond belief.

    The world owes the Veterans of World War II far more than a simple thank you. We owe them peace, diligence, and an unwavering respect for their never flinching or cowering in the face of tyranny. They and Veterans to follow have continued to represent the best of what our Society and Country need to stand for each and every day.

  4. John Rogers June 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Alex: You have given your predecessors a gift: The gift of being remembered…the gift of knowing someone still cares. Your visit to the invasion beaches and this article is a gift to the GIs that will keep on giving.

    I hope someone does the same for you Iraq and Afghanistan vets 67 years from now….

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