It was 70 years ago today that 7,000 ships and landing craft carrying 156,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.
The assault, which penetrated Adolf Hitler's Fortress Europe defenses, remains the largest amphibious invasion in history. By day's end on June 6, 1944, the Allies had gained a foot-hold in France, the first step in defeating the Nazis. It came at a high cost as more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded.
Many of us Baby Boomers had fathers or uncles involved in the D-Day landings. My uncle jumped into the battle with the 101st Airborne's Screaming Eagles and my father and four other uncles would later land on French shores to join in the Allied march across Europe to defeat the German Reich.
With World War II veterans dying at a rate of approximately 550 a day, we're fortunate to have museums, preservationist groups and individuals who are collecting oral histories in order to preserve the legacy of the Greatest Generation.
For those who would like to experience a taste of what is was like 70 years ago, there are events like the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum's World War II Weekend which is now being held at the Reading Regional Airport. This weekend, visitors have an opportunity to view the military vehicles and authentic weapons and gear of the day while also speaking with some of the veterans who did the actual fighting.
One of my favorite pieces of military art, titled "Night of Nights" by Gil Cohen, shows paratroopers of the 101st Airborne at the doorway of their C-47 transport plane, ready to jump into the night. Many troopers carried a message from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower that they kept in their helmets, jump boots, or in their jacket pockets. It read: "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."
Now, 70 years later, we remain thankful to those soldiers for rescuing us from the clutches of Nazi Germany and Hitler's fanatical quest to dominate the world.
By Jim Zbick