Memorial events for the 80th anniversary of D-Day begin with a mass parachute jump over Normandy

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Parachutists jumped from WWII-era planes on June 2. 2024 to kick off a week of activities in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of D-Day (The Associated Press)

June 6. 1944 – Young soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada, and other Allied troops trod the shores of five beaches in Normandy France. Carrying large fleets of ships and exhilarating convoys of aircraft, the event would be the greatest air, land, and sea assault in history, marking the first turning of tides of Nazi control over Europe.

3 AM – Hitler, in his sleep, is unaware that 160,000 Allied Troops had landed on Normandy consisting of units Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold, and Sword. Originally, June 5 was the planned date for the landings. However, foggy weather persisted late into the mornings, delaying the invasion for 24 hours. This proved advantageous for Allied troops, allowing aircraft to conceal themselves amongst the clouds.

7:30 AM – The Germans were expecting an invasion but were unsure when. The Allied troops had to keep stealthy to maintain the secrecy of their mission. By this time, German commanders were sure of the long-awaited invasion but mistaken it as a diversion of a more major invasion elsewhere. Germany’s deadliest divisions were held back.

In the same hour, Operation Neptune and Overlord, the naval and broader invasion units, blew up supply lines and hindered German troops. The final blow came from American General Eisenhower, who launched major naval artillery on shore, knowing well that it would decimate not just Germans but many Americans already on shore.

4 PM – Germans have retreated due to strategic mistakes and careful planning by the Allies. However, the victory came at a great cost. 2,000 Americans are dead, along with 73,000 Allied forces and 5,000 Germans.

10 PM – President Roosevelt prays live at the White House along with millions of Americans watching. Allied troops would take full control of Normandy 77 days later, but it would take another 452 days before his prayers became reality on September 2. 1945.

If D-Day had failed, it “would have been a major boost to German morale and Hitler would have withdrawn his core divisions from the West to fight on the Eastern Front, ” notes Soenke Neitzel, Professor of International History. It is almost certain that “Roosevelt would have lost the 1944 elections, so there would have been a change in administration,” corroborates military historian Dennis Showalter.

Survivors

Amongst survivors, the sound of explosions and the sight of dead comrades still linger on in their hearts to this day.

“I dropped my first bomb at 06:58 a.m. in a heavy gun placement,” said Ralph Goldsticker, an American Air Force captain who served in the 452nd Bomb Group. “We went back home, we landed at 9:30. We reloaded.”

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Don Graves recalls this traumatic experience. “Seven thousand of my Marine buddies were killed. Twenty thousand shot up, wounded, put on ships, buried at sea…”

Earlier this week, former British army paratrooper Neil Hamsler watched one of three C-47 aircraft that flew him to his Normandy drop zone zip across the Normandy skies eighty years later. “It was like time traveling back to D-Day,” he recalls.

The survivors’ statements leave one grim sentiment that resonates with the hopes of many, dead or alive — “war is hell”

Paying tribute

Earlier this week, parachutists consisting of World War II veterans, current military personnel, and veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars descended the same skies – once camouflaged with blood and anguish – now blue and peaceful.

The parachutists release trails of red smoke in memory and gratitude of those sacrificed on D-Day (AP Photos)

This Thursday, international leaders gathered in Normandy to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of D-Day veterans in light of the event’s 80th anniversary. Recognizing D-Day’s importance in the collective memory of attending nations, Macron awards 11 U.S. veterans with France’s highest distinction, the Legion of Honor. He tells them “You came here to make France a free nation. You’re back here today at home, if I may say,” and subsequently bowing down to greet them with kisses on both cheeks.  

Amongst the men awarded with the honor were Joseph Miller, Arlester Brown, and Richard Rung. Miller, a medic who landed in Normandy on June 6th, 1944, helped 14 men make it out safely of a glider that lost both wings. Brown, a leading engineer, was deployed in various locations across Normandy, Belgium, and Rhine lands in Germany. Rung, merely 19 when assigned to land on Omaha Beach, is now 99.

Some of the loudest applause was for 103-year-old female veteran Christian Lamb whose creations of detailed maps guided Allied military strategically across the Normandy coastline and beyond. Lamb created “showed railways, roads, churches, castles, every possible feature that could be visible to an incoming invader and from every angle.” As Macron proclaimed Lamb as a “hero in the shadows,” Lamb exclaimed it was “intense and exciting work” in a recent Associated Press interview.

Lamb reminds us that D-Day’s success, often told through the lenses of stories by men, is attributable to the work of thousands of military women in crucial positions; “codebreakers, ship plotters, cartographers and radar operators,” and many more.

Inevitably, the faces of D-Day veterans rapidly dwindle under the transient countdown of time. The youngest veteran is 96, and the oldest is 107.

Hopes for the Ukraine war and European-American relations

President Biden reminds “NATO’s solidarity” in the face of new threats to democracy, connecting his commemoration of WWII to his hopes for the Ukraine war. On arrival, Ukraine’s leader Zelensky was greeted with celebration. Holding his unwavering position against Vladimir Putin, Biden says that Ukraine was invaded by “a tyrant,” reiterating that “to surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators is simply unthinkable.”

D-Day’s anniversary has come at the time of the deadliest fighting on the continent since WWII. The Ukraine-Russian war has laid worsening fractures between the U.S. and other nations. Russia, once known as the Soviet Union, has sacrificed the most military deaths – 27 million – in retribution for the surrender of the Axis. Yet, current political turmoil and rivalry have impeded the country’s invitation to one of its greatest devotions. Similarly, the Israeli-Hamas dispute continues to exacerbate cracks between U.S. and European allies.

Respectably, Biden cements his resolute support for European security as many fear a potential re-election of Donald Trump in November 2024 may surrender American commitments. Regardless of profit or cost, the D-Day veterans were farewelled with “merci” and goodbye as they are forever reverenced for their steadfast bravery and heroism in the world’s most brutal times.

Written by Julia Jiang

Share this:

You may also like...