Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and because it’s a landmark number, the invasion of Normandy is getting more than the usual attention.
Some years, only the old folks seem to note the date.
The attention is apt. It’s right to note and honor the incredible sacrifices and achievements that happened on the beaches of Normandy in France in 1944.
And it’s likely that this is the last milestone anniversary of D-Day when there will be veterans of the invasion around to attend the ceremonies.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that fewer than 3 percent of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive.
Even a soldier who lied about his age and enlisted as a teenager would be in his 90s now.
Too few Americans really appreciate what it was like to be involved in that massive war effort.
Too few of us understand what was at stake on that long-ago June 6.
If we’ve seen “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Longest Day,” we may have an idea of the carnage and chaos.
If we had a good history class, we may have an inkling of the importance of what those soldiers and sailors were doing.
It would be hard to overstate the significance.
The Normandy landing was the largest amphibious assault in the history of the world and also one of the most momentous military operations ever. At stake that day was the future of freedom, democracy and human.
For nearly five years, Hitler’s Nazis and his allies had been having their way in Western Europe and Northern Africa. France and other countries were occupied police states.
Millions of Jews and others considered undesirable had been thrown into concentration camps, where they were starved and abused before being gassed. Where the German Nazis weren’t actually in control, other fascist dictators reigned.
The British had somehow managed to hold on, and the United States finally joined the Allied effort after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
It was clear that a massive, risky invasion to liberate France would be the only way the Allies could hope to stop the spreading horrors.
So, led by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the planning and preparations — reconnaissance, double agents, decoy operations to confuse the Germans, amassing supplies, training troops — began.
And on June 6, the tide, the moon and the weather aligned.
First the planes and paratroopers, then the war ships and landing craft moved across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy as 155,000 Americans, British and Canadians charged the beaches of the German stronghold. Before it was over, an estimated 10,000 would be dead, wounded or missing — 6,600 of them Americans.
But the invasion succeeded, and the troops in Operation Overlord bravely fought their way forward over the next weeks and months, liberating Paris and pressing on to defeat the Nazis.
Historians say the success, against great odds, on D-Day ranks with such momentous battles as Washington’s victory at Yorktown, Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and the Greeks’ victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. It was the turning point that saved democracy and freedom.
So, yes, it’s right to remember what happened 75 years ago, and fitting to honor those who fought and died for our ideals.
And while we’re at it, we should remind ourselves that we should never take democracy and liberty for granted.