Normandy, 70 Years Ago

Seventy years ago today, the Allied liberation of Western Europe began. The first paratroops had jumped in shortly after midnight, and soldiers rushed ashore on the various Normandy beaches starting around 6:30 AM. On a stretch near a small town called Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, on what was codenamed “Omaha Beach,” Captain Richard Merrill, 2nd Ranger Battalion, remembered:

I was the first one out. The seventh man was the next one to get across the beach without being hit. All the ones in-between were hit. Two were killed; three were injured. That’s how lucky you had to be.

The exact invasion date had naturally been kept secret. Thus America awoke to the news. Hours after the landings, the President of the United States spoke to an anxious country:

Indeed, some of those soldiers of whom President Roosevelt spoke – such as those killed alongside Captain Merrill – of course did not return:

The grave of U.S. Lieutenant General Lesley McNair, in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. McNair was killed in Normandy, July 25, 1944. He was the highest ranking U.S. soldier to die in combat in the Second World War. [Photo by me, 1995.]
The grave of U.S. Lieutenant General Lesley McNair, in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. McNair was killed in Normandy, July 25, 1944. He was the highest ranking U.S. soldier to die in combat in the Second World War. [Photo by me, 1995.]

Colleville-sur-Mer is merely perhaps the best-known resting place for those who fell. The American Battle Monuments Commission has been responsible for new U.S. military cemeteries since 1923. Its web site lists all of them around the world, and also includes the names of those interred. It is well-worth a thoughtful browse.

And if as an American you ever get a chance to visit in person, you should consider doing so.

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