Instead of homework or assigned reading, I carried military history around in high school. World War II was my favorite subject. The war’s vastness captivated me; a worldwide struggle, a clear and determined enemy, a fight for the very existence of our way of life. I failed classes outright so I could read and reread “The Longest Day” and “Band of Brothers.” Those books captured the urgency and importance of the D-Day landings, the success of which was not all too clear as the landing crafts roared through the Normandy surf that morning.
Sixty-seven years later, June 6 still towers above the rest of the days on the June calendar. The largest amphibious assault in the history has been recreated in popular culture in films like Saving Private Ryan, and war photographer Robert Capa’s iconic images of the Omaha landings published in LIFE have been seared into our nation’s conscious. These images and films help us remember the tremendous cost borne by the United States military and her allies in an effort to end tyranny on the European continent. American causalities numbered 6,603, with 2,499 lives lost in a single day of fighting. The enormous loss of life and limb was not in vain; a unified beachhead was established, and Allied forces poured in to join the fight against Germany. Normandy marked the beginning of the end for the Axis Powers.
While on leave from Iraq, I spent time walking the invasion beaches up and down the coast and visited the American cemetery there. It was strange to leave one war only to find myself in a place where men also fought and died alongside each other. But history swirled around me, and I finally saw those places I had only read about years earlier. Sixty-seven years later, I remember.
To view photos from D-Day, news articles, General Eisenhower’s famous letter and more, check out the Army’s D-Day history page.