Normandy mission remembered on anniversary
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War II, addressed a group of expectant young men 57 years ago today who were about to fight a battle that would change the course of history forever.
“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months,” Eisenhower said. “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere are with you.”
On June 6, 1944 the United States and its Allies launched Operation Overlord, the world’s largest amphibious invasion, on occupied France to free Europe of Nazi tyranny.
More than 150,000 Allied troops supported by American and British naval and aerial bombardment spilled onto the beaches of Normandy. German forces entrenched in the 100-foot cliffs above rained down a hail of bullets, bombs and grenades on the Allied troops as they scrambled to find cover on the open beaches.
Stateline resident and World War II veteran from the Pacific Theater Bill Kerr said the D-Day Invasion was one of the most important and brutal battles of the war.
“It meant everything because we turned the tide (of the war) with that invasion,” Kerr said. “If anybody saw the picture “Saving Private Ryan” they know exactly what it was and how it ended up. D-Day was the worst of all of them except maybe Iwo Jima. Most of the guys that were on the D-Day landing will say that is the worst battle they ever saw. I take my hat off to the Army and the Rangers, the British and the Canadians and everybody who went ashore that day.”
Omaha Beach was the scene of the bloodiest fighting of the Normandy campaign. More than 4,600 men of the U.S. 1st Army died securing the beach.
While Operation Overlord cost the Allies thousands of lives, the success of the mission proved invaluable to the war effort. The foothold established on the shores of Normandy allowed the allies to pour military resources onto the European continent to bring down Hitler’s Third Reich.
Tahoe resident Denver Driver, 85, was in the Army during World War II. He arrived on the beaches of Normandy with his anti-tank company about three months after the invasion.
“We did not get over there for D-Day,” Driver said. “We did not get over there until September (1944.) There was lots of debris on the beach and out in the water. There was a bunch of water craft that were sunk. They faced hell getting on that beach.”
Gerda Watrous was a resident of Holland before moving to Lake Tahoe six years ago. She was a 10-year-old prisoner in a Japanese concentration camp in Dutch Indonesia during the Normandy invasion. She said she and the other prisoners did not hear news of the invasion until after the war was over and she had returned to Holland. She said Europeans she has talked to, see the invasion as the beginning of the end of Nazi rule.
“That Normandy invasion, it saved Europe. That is for sure,” Watrous said. “When you talk to the people in Europe and especially in France they were so happy.”
Watrous has visited the battlefield, and she said the struggle the Allied soldiers faced is still evident today.
“I was in Normandy and you have the feeling of all those young men there,” Watrous said. “They came from farms. They did not know anything about war and when you go there you can still feel that.”
Kerr said young people today should appreciate the sacrifice the World War II veterans made during the Normandy invasion because it helped ensure freedom today.
“The lesson was that generation that landed at D-Day saved the country and the world for the kids now,” Kerr said. “We owe a lot to those boys.”
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