D-Day: 'This is it!'

June 06, 1994

From the fall of France in 1940, from Nazi Germany's declaration of war against the United States in December 1941, Americans assumed our side was going to invade France to march on to Berlin. There was never any doubt. For millions, though by no means all, this was what World War II was about.

From the start, the shipyards went to work making the landing craft that would be used that day. The war plants turned out the planes and tanks that would go into action the first time on what turned out to be June 6, 1944.

First it was going to be in 1943, but Britain and the United States decided it couldn't be managed that early. Their Russian ally was angry, desperately wanting pressure on the Western front to pull German troops away (even though the war in Italy was doing that). Then the British thought it couldn't be 1944, either, but the Americans determined that it should. And although the British had more war experience and battle-tested generals, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had understood from the start that the war would end with a preponderance of American men and equipment and needed American command.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower moved up from command in the Mediterranean. D-Day was set for June 5. It actually began, before he called it off for weather. And on the next day, though the winds were still rough in the Channel, he let it go forward.

And so when The Evening Sun reported to Baltimore the war communique about the landing on June 6, 1944, it included the translation from military jargon: "This is it!" Everyone knew what "it" was.

On four of the invasion beaches, things went well for the Americans, British and Canadians. On the fifth, Omaha Beach, Germans on the cliffs above kept up a withering fire. And on the high point between Omaha and Utah Beach, army Rangers scaled the cliff only to be pinned down on the lip. The ground commander, General Omar Bradley, considered shifting the rest of his incoming troops to Utah Beach. But the surviving men pressed forward.

For decades, Americans have been visiting the quiet graveyards above the beaches where crosses and Stars of David attest to the sacrifices Americans made to begin the liberation of France and defeat of Germany. Men who were turning 20 in those lurching landing craft are turning 70 today. In a few decades, there will be no one to go back to remember. But the nation must never forget.

For most Americans, World War II was the just war, but nonetheless terrible and an argument against all war. As far as the European Theater went, D-Day was when light appeared at the end of the tunnel, when Americans knew the war would indeed end, and when they could begin to turn their thoughts to winning the peace.

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