Today we pause to honor the heroism and sacrifice of the more than 150,000 men who jumped from Skytrains and Higgins boats 75 years ago into the 20th century's most violent maelstrom.
"Our sons, the pride of our nation," President Franklin Roosevelt called them in a national prayer that day, adding, "this day (they) have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity."
Everything about the opening of this second front on June 6, 1944, was enormous.
The invasion that morning involved more than 10,400 planes — fighters, troop transports, bombers and gliders — and between 6,000 and 7,000 ships, the majority of them troop carriers.
Simultaneously, but less well known, the United States had organized a second armada in the summer of 1944, this one with hundreds more ships and 300,000 men, nearly half of them assault troops. Were it not for Overlord — the invasion of France — this invasion force, with 15 aircraft carriers and 8 million gallons of aviation fuel, would have been the largest and most sophisticated ever assembled, according to naval historian Ian Toll.
Its destination was the Marianas, in the Pacific, where more invasions, more heroism and more sacrifice, should also be remembered.
Toll wrote, "That two such colossal assaults could be launched against fortified enemy shores, in the same month and at opposite ends of the Eurasian landmass, was a supreme demonstration of American military-industrial hegemony."
Perhaps the most enormous thing about D-Day and the battle for Normandy that summer was the consequence.
"For Germany, the defeat was monumental," wrote the historian Rick Atkinson in his trilogy of the war in Europe, "comparable to Stalingrad, Tunis and the recent debacle in White Russia. Fritz Bayerlein, commander of the Panzer Lehr Division and (Field Marshal Erwin) Rommel's erstwhile chief of staff, later concluded that among history's memorable battlefield drubbings, including Cannae and Tannenberg, none 'can approach the battle of annihilation in France in 1944 in the magnitude of planning, the logic of execution, the collaboration of sea, air and ground forces.'"
While we remember and honor today those Americans who died in France, and in all theaters of World War II, we think D-Day should remain hallowed for other reasons too. It reminds us of the power of Americans to accomplish the enormous when united and resolved. It's not that we don't have disagreements and differences, but this day demands that we push back against those who would use our disagreements and differences to divide us.
And it reminds us that, when united and resolved, this nation is capable of leading the world in the defeat of tyrannies, although the price is always high.
Atkinson wrote that throughout Normandy that summer, French citizens marked the graves of American soldiers with the words: 'Mort pour la liberté."
"Died for liberty."