80th Anniversary of the WWII D-Day Landings

by olivia hoffman
Photo © Alan Barr
**This article is a direct feature from the May/June 2024 My French Country Home magazine. To see more articles like this featuring fascinating history about French culture, be sure to subscribe to the magazine!**

“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. … Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. … I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! … Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” 

– General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Order of the Day (1944)

General Eisenhower began drafting this speech in February 1944, not knowing exactly when it would be time to release it. Before dawn on June 5th of that year, amid deep uncertainties ranging from weather conditions to disagreements in strategy, Eisenhower made the executive decision to launch “Operation Overlord” – an Allied invasion of the Normandy coast aimed at liberating France from German occupation. Scribbled on a note later that day, the general said he would assume full personal responsibility in the event this highly risky mission failed. Later that evening, his Order of the Day was distributed to the 175,000 soldiers who would take part the next morning in what we now call D-Day – the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare, and a crucial turning point of the Second World War. 

Commemorating the Fallen Heroes

Eighty years ago, those courageous young men – mostly from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada – fought to defeat Nazism and reestablish freedom and basic human rights. Tragically, thousands did not live to see the outcome of their efforts, but their deaths were not in vain. The Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer is the largest memorial to their sacrifice. Perched on a cliff overlooking the beaches where they faced relentless German machine gun fire on June 6th, 1944, a sea of white marble headstones – each marked with a soldier’s name, rank, infantry and date of death –  stretches across 173 acres (70 hectares).

The Normandy American Cemetery

It is challenging not to feel overwhelmed setting foot onto this hallowed ground, realizing that each of the 9,238 Latin crosses and 149 stars of David was once just a young boy. It is also baffling to imagine that the beautiful sandy coastline just beyond the cliff’s edge was where many of them fell to eternal rest. The ones who did survive wonder why their comrades were taken instead of them. But thanks to their compatriots’ sacrifice and their courage to forge on, Europeans have continued to live free of tyranny for eight decades. The powerful words inscribed on the wall of the cemetery chapel read: “Their graves are the permanent and visible symbol of their heroic devotion and their sacrifice in the common cause of humanity.”

Every year since, France has enthusiastically celebrated the anniversary of D-Day – known here as Le Débarquement. It is a moving testament to the immense gratitude the French people feel toward the foreign soldiers who risked their lives to liberate their country, and this enduring appreciation is at the heart of the special relationship that exists today between France and the United States in particular. 

The 80th D-Day Anniversary

To mark the 80th anniversary this summer, the coastal communities that were the stage for the Normandy expedition have planned more than 100 events in honor of the heroism and sacrifice of that day, emphasizing the enduring spirit of camaraderie and hope. As this will most likely be the last major anniversary to include the few D-Day veterans who still survive, it is certain to be an incredibly powerful and emotional commemoration. If you are heading to Normandy this year for the occasion, you can find a full list of events on the Normandy Tourism website.

Those who have the chance to attend the festivities are in for a treat. Parades, parachutes, concerts, and historical reenactments are just a few of the dozens of activities in store this June. You can find the full program here. Watch the video from the 75th anniversary below for an idea of what to expect!

Written by Olivia Hoffman

In our 8-day itinerary of the Normandy coastline, we include the best way to see the D-Day beaches and cemeteries, along with recommendations for activities and museums that can be visited at any time of the year.

Read Next: Inside the May/June 24 Issue

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