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D-Day: June 6, 1944

72 years ago, the combined armed forces of the United States, Great Britain and Canada launched the invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of Nazi-occupied western Europe, and led to the Allied victory on the Western Front.

The weather on D-Day was far from ideal, but postponing would have meant a delay of at least two weeks, as the invasion planners had requirements for the phase of the moon, the tides, and the time of day that meant only a few days in each month were deemed suitable. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, and the weight of the entire operation fell on his shoulders. Field MarshalErwin Rommel commanded the German forces and the defensive fortifications along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an Allied invasion.The invasion target was a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast. It was divided into five sectors: Utah,Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beach. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha. The men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, and barbed wire, making the work of the beach-clearing teams difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha (which was assigned to U. S. troops), with its high cliffs. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting.The invasion consisted of nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers participating. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on D-Day, with 875,000 men disembarking by the end of June. Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. The Germans lost 1,000 men.The event has been memorialized in many books and movies, most notably The Longest Day (book by Cornelius Ryan, 1962 movie adaptation directed by Darryl F. Zanuck) and Saving Private Ryan (directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks, 1998).Today, we should all pause to remember the courage of the men and women of the U. S., Britain and Canada who offered their lives in defense of freedom.