WITH AMERICAN FORCES IN FRANCE — Fighting as American troops did in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, doughboys have smashed through the outer crust of Hitler's fortress in a gallant display of courage and skill. …
That was the start of the first dispatch filed 75 years ago today by Associated Press reporter Don Whitehead, writing from the beaches of Normandy to inform the American public of the D-Day invasion of Europe by American, British and Canadian troops, code-named Operation Overlord. It would take a couple of days for his account to appear in American newspapers, and by then the 156,000 Allied troops had established a foothold on the shores of Nazi-occupied France.
D-Day began the final phase of World War II in Europe, and in the ensuing months the German armies would be squeezed in a vise between American, British and Canadian troops in the West, and Soviet forces in the East.
In less than a year — on May 8, 1945 — the Allies would accept the unconditional surrender of Germany. By the time Japan surrendered, on Sept. 2 of that year, the U.S. had some 407,000 troops killed and 671,000 wounded. Only the Civil War exacted a higher toll on the American people.
By contrast, it is estimated that the Soviet Union lost 24 million people, military and civilian combined, in World War II. The worldwide toll of the war is impossible to determine, but it has been reckoned at around 60 million dead, military and civilian.
Appropriately, solemn ceremonies are being held today at many locations in France, Britain, Canada and the U.S., in memory of those who perished all those years ago and in the abiding hope that nothing like a world war will ever again darken the globe.
Appropriately, one place the D-Day anniversary is being observed today is Bedford, Virginia, where the U.S. D-Day monument was established in 2001. This tiny community lost 20 of the 32 sons it sent to the invasion of Normandy.
Because this is bound to be the last large gathering of D-Day veterans — even the youngest of them are now in their 90s — there could hardly be a better time thank them for their service and to reflect on the human costs of war.