Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home
Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower
Convoy of Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) steaming toward Normandy
On June 6th 1944 the Allies invaded German controlled France on the beaches of Normandy. By that evening the Allied Expeditionary Force had landed six infantry divisions on five invasion beaches and the bulk of three airborne divisions on the approaches to those beaches. Near 175,000 Allied Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marine Commandos were involved in the attack and nearly 10,000 would listed be as killed, wounded or missing by the end of the day, over half on Omaha Beach.
The names of the invasion beaches and the units involved have been immortalized in history, in film and literature. The American 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles,” the “All American” 82nd Airborne Division and British 6th Airborne Division “Red Devils” made the largest night airborne drop and battled Germans, the elements as the struggled to reorganize on the heels of widely scattered drops. The Americans battled the German 91st Airlanding Division and the crack 6th Parachute Regiment, while the British faced men of the 716th “Static” Infantry Division and battle groups of the nearby 21st Panzer Division.
On Sword Beach men of the 3rd British Division and 27th Armoured Brigade teamed with the 1st Special Services Brigade composed of Army and Royal Marine Commandos made the assault, to their right on Juno Beach the Canadians of the 3rd Canadian Division, 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade and two Royal Marine Commandos (battalions) while to their right on the middle invasion beach, God Beach the British 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division and 8th Armoured Brigade went ashore with elements of the British 79th Armoured Division and the 47th Royal Marine Commando.
To the right of the British landed the American V Corps on Omaha Beach, the 1st Infantry Division, the famous “Big Red One” and the 29th “Blue and Gray” Infantry Division of the Virginia and Maryland National Guard. They would fight the most seasoned Germans on the beaches that day, the hardened combat veterans of the 352nd Infantry Division. The battle of Omaha was nearly a disaster and a one point General Omar Bradley contemplated withdraw from the beach. The American troops, including the men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion who scaled the cliffs of Point du Hoc to protect the beach from enfilade fire from German artillery mounted on the point, yet the German guns had not yet been emplaced and the Rangers fought a bitter battle against strong German resistance on that rugged mount. On the far right the American VII Corps led by the 4th Infantry Division assaulted Utah Beach; fortunately the Americans landed away from their planned point of assault and faced little resistance. Had they landed in the correct location they might fared as their neighbors on Omaha Beach.
Offshore the venerable battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Ramillies and the USS Texas, USS Nevada and USS Arkansas provided fire support to the beaches aided by the Free Naval Forces of France, the Netherlands, Poland and Norway. The French forces included the cruisers Montcalm and Georges Leygues.
Names such has St Mere-Eglise and Pegasus Bridge, the Merville Battery, Point du Hoc and Bloody Omaha remain etched in the minds of the dwindling number of surviving veterans as well as historians, military personnel and others that take the time to remember the sacrifices of these men.
The Men came from all parts of the United States and the British Commonwealth. Additionally personnel from France and other countries occupied by Nazi Germany were represented in the land, air and naval forces involved. For the French, humiliated by their defeat in 1940 and divided by the Vichy and Free French divide were determined, despite their small numbers to liberate their homeland.
They were opposed by four German Divisions, a Luftwaffe Fallschirmjaeger regiment and elements of the 21st Panzer Division. The Germans with nothing in the way of air support and no significant naval forces were on their own. Hitler had refused Rommel’s request to deploy Panzer divisions near the beaches and was not awakened when word came of the invasion. German soldiers fought with considerable valor and would do so throughout the Normandy campaign, even if they fought for a regime that was evil at its core.
On the night of June 6th President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the American people, offering a prayer for the nation, the troops and the success of the invasion:
My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt – June 6, 1944
Forty years later President Ronald Reagan made one of the most memorable speeches about the landings when he spoke at Omaha Beach.
We stand today at a place of battle, one that 40 years ago saw and felt the worst of war. Men bled and died here for a few feet of – or inches of sand, as bullets and shellfire cut through their ranks. About them, General Omar Bradley later said, “Every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero.”
Some who survived the battle of June 6, 1944, are here today. Others who hoped to return never did.
“Someday, Lis, I’ll go back,” said Private First Class Peter Robert Zannata, of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion, and first assault wave to hit Omaha Beach. “I’ll go back, and I’ll see it all again. I’ll see the beach, the barricades, and the graves.”
Those words of Private Zanatta come to us from his daughter, Lisa Zannata Henn, in a heart-rending story about the event her father spoke of so often. “In his words, the Normandy invasion would change his life forever,” she said. She tells some of his stories of World War II but says of her father, “the story to end all stories was D-Day.”
“He made me feel the fear of being on the boat waiting to land. I can smell the ocean and feel the sea sickness. I can see the looks on his fellow soldiers’ faces-the fear, the anguish, the uncertainty of what lay ahead. And when they landed, I can feel the strength and courage of the men who took those first steps through the tide to what must have surely looked like instant death.”
Private Zannata’s daughter wrote to me, “I don’t know how or why I can feel this emptiness, this fear, or this determination, but I do. Maybe it’s the bond I had with my father. All I know is that it brings tears to my eyes to think about my father as a 20-year old boy having to face that beach.”
The anniversary of D-Day was always special to her family. And like all the families of those who went to war, she describes how she came to realize her own father’s survival was a miracle: “So many men died. I know that my father watched many of his friends be killed. I know that he must have died inside a little each time. But his explanation to me was, “You did what you had to do, and you kept on going.”
When men like Private Zannata and all our Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy 40 years ago they came not as conquerors, but as liberators. When these troops swept across the French countryside and into the forests of Belgium and Luxembourg they came not to take, but to return what had been wrongfully seized. When our forces marched into Germany they came not to prey on a brave and defeated people, but to nurture the seeds of democracy among those who yearned to be free again.
We salute them today. But, Mr. President (Francois Mitterand of France), we also salute those who, like yourself, were already engaging the enemy inside your beloved country, the French Resistance. Your valiant struggle for France did so much to cripple the enemy and spur the advance of the armies of liberation. The French Forces of the Interior will forever personify courage and national spirit. They will be a timeless inspiration to all who are free and to all who would be free.
Today, in their memory, and for all who fought here, we celebrate the triumph of democracy. We reaffirm the unity of democratic people who fought a war and then joined with the vanquished in a firm resolve to keep the peace.
From a terrible war we learned that unity made us invincible; now, in peace, that same unity makes us secure. We sought to bring all freedom-loving nations together in a community dedicated to the defense and preservation of our sacred values. Our alliance, forged in the crucible of war, tempered and shaped by the realities of the post-war world, has succeeded. In Europe, the threat has been contained, the peace has been kept.
Today, the living here assembled: officials, veterans, area citizens, pay tribute to what was achieved here 40 years ago. This land is secure. We are free. These things are worth fighting and dying for.
Lisa Zannata Henn began her story by quoting her father, who promised that he would return to Normandy. She ended with a promise to her father, who died 8 years ago of cancer: “I’m going there, Dad, and I’ll see the beaches and the barricades and the monuments. I’ll see the graves, and I’ll put flowers there just like you wanted to do. I’ll never forget what you went through, Dad, nor will I let any one else forget. And, Dad, I’ll always be proud.”
Through the words of his loving daughter, who is here with us today, a D-Day veteran has shown us the meaning of this day far better than any President can. It is enough to say about Private Zannata and all the men of honor and courage who fought beside him four decades ago:
We will always remember.
We will always be proud.
We will always be prepared,
So we may always be free.
Let us remember those brave men who fought at Normandy as we go to bed having been the benefactors of their sacrifice for the last 67 years.