The few survivors are old men now, mostly in their late 80s to mid-90s. The vast majority of the men who fought with them that day are long dead.
But what they did on the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago today will outlive them a hundred times over.
It is no exaggeration to say D-Day 1944 was the beginning of the end of World War II and the day when America took a huge step to becoming the most powerful nation the world has seen.
But for the 155,000 or so Allied soldiers who waded ashore that day or the 18,000 paratroopers who had jumped into the pre-dawn dark that morning, it’s safe to say there were no thoughts of the decades to come; what mattered was the next minute, the next yard of beach and their fellow soldiers.
Under intense mortar, machine gun and rifle fire from German defenders firing from dozens of concrete bunkers, Allied soldiers from the United States, Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand managed to get off the beaches and head inland to link up with airborne troops who had captured and held key towns and bridges.
They eventually demolished Adolf Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.”
But the toll was awful. The U.S. reported 1,465 dead, 3,184 wounded and 1,928 missing. But more recent estimates reported by the D-Day Museum paint an even grimmer picture: nearly 4,500 allied dead and total casualties estimated at 10,000 to 12,000. More than 21,000 Germans are buried in the largest cemetery in Normandy.
In some ways, D-Day was another day in a war that for the U.S. had been raging since Dec. 7, 1941. The day before the invasion, Allied forces entered Rome after a long and bitter campaign in Italy. In the Pacific, the fleet carrying the Marines and U.S. Army soldiers who were to invade the island of Saipan left Pearl Harbor. They went ashore June 15; by July 9, the battle was over at a cost of 3,000 U.S. dead and more than 13,000 wounded. The Japanese lost at least 27,000 dead.