Seventy-two years ago, on the eve of what would be the largest military invasion ever by sea, General Dwight D. Eisenhower told the troops that “the eyes of the world are upon you. … I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle.”
His confidence was well-placed, and as such, June 6, 1944 – D-Day – will forever be remembered as a high point in American history. It is difficult to overstate just how important that victory was during the dark days of World War II and the role it played in ending the war the following year.
It is also difficult to fathom the size of what was called Operation Overlord. There were nearly 160,000 troops, 13,000 aircraft and 5,000 ships involved, and their target was a 60 mile-long stretch of coast along northern France.
The landing on Normandy’s beaches came with a high price. There were estimated 10,000 Allied casualties during that battle, including more than 4,400 who died. Many from our region took part in that epic assault, and several are still with us today. The memory of everyone involved deserves to be recalled and honored this week on the battle’s anniversary.
Our region also has a strong connection to a major architect of the invasion: George C. Marshall, whose parents were from Augusta and who was President Franklin Roosevelt’s chief military advisor. He is principally remembered today for the Marshall Plan that was crucial in rebuilding Europe after the war.
All told, Kentucky saw more than 300,000 of its citizens serve during World War II, and nearly 7,000 paid the ultimate price. Millions more contributed here at home however they could, from planting victory gardens to working in the factories that served the war effort. Louisville’s Ford operations alone built more than 100,000 Jeeps during those years.
Today, there are less than 18,000 World War II veterans in Kentucky, and these members of what we rightfully call the “Greatest Generation” are now in their late 80s and 90s.
Their stories – and millions of others like them – symbolize the timeless values that define our country and those who serve, values like courage, caring for your fellow man and a willingness to put everything on the line in the name of freedom.
As D-Day and World War II recede further into history, it is crucial that we never forget what our veterans did then and in the decades to follow. Their sacrifices are the foundation of the successes we enjoy today.
That is why D-Day is much more than a date on a calendar; like July 4th and November 11th, it is a time when we recall the very best we have to offer.
If we lose sight of that, we risk losing everything.