By Ian Centrone
June 04, 2019
JOEL SAGET/Getty Images

In the very early hours of June 6, 1944, the world witnessed the greatest seaborne invasion ever known to man. While the battles of World War II had been raging on for nearly half a decade, Allied forces were in the midst of descending upon Normandy, France. Their mission was simple yet wildly complex: liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

In all, more than 156,000 Allied troops fought in the strategic land, air, and sea operation remembered today as D-Day. Despite challenging weather conditions and fierce German defenses, the Allied forces ultimately prevailed, although it has been estimated that there were at least 10,000 Allied casualties on the first day alone. Still, it marked one of the most significant victories by the Western Allies during the war. The events of D-Day led to the eventual collapse of the German resistance in France and the overall Allied victory the following year, with the war officially ending on Sept. 2, 1945.

“D-Day was one of the most important days in American history,” says Robert Citino, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. “But it was also one of the finest and noblest moments in American history.”

Assault troops approach Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.
Courtesy of The National WWII Museum.

That’s exactly why each year on the D-Day anniversary, people across the globe gather to honor the heroes who fought so valiantly and show gratitude for the sacrifices they made. But as Dr. Citino notes, this June will usher in a special milestone that carries a particularly somber importance.

“This is the last major anniversary of D-Day in which there will still be significant participation by veterans of the event,” he says. “If you were 20 years old in 1944, you are 95 today. Sixteen million men and women wore the uniform of the United States military in World War II, but only 450,000 of them or so are still alive. In other words, 97 percent of the generational cohort that fought the war has passed on. The living memory of D-day is about to disappear,” he explained. “And D-Day 75 is the last chance to hear these men, to speak to them, and to bask in their presence.”

Members of the 101st Airborne Infantry Division and the 4th Infantry Division crowd aboard an LCT on the way to Utah Beach, June 6, 1944.
Courtesy of The National WWII Museum.

During the past 75 years, the landing beaches along Normandy’s shores have come to symbolize universal themes of hope, peace, and freedom. Since 2007, the annual Normandy D-Day Festival commemorates the momentous occasion with an international ceremony that includes firework displays, parachute landings, parades, special exhibitions, and more. This year, the historic event will take place along Juno Beach in Normandy and is expected to be attended by President Donald Trump in addition to many other world leaders, dignitaries, and veterans.

Over in England, the Imperial War Museums (IWM) will also remember the 75th anniversary by staging an unprecedented aircraft display to “bring the extraordinary story of D-Day to life.” On June 4 and 5, visitors to IWM Duxford will be able to see more than 30 Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircrafts (known as Dakotas or “Daks”), which have since become synonymous with the D-Day air landings.

The collaboration between IWM and Daks Over Duxford will mark the greatest number of Daks in a single location since WWII. The reenactment is slated to include more than 300 individual participants and will commence with the fleet crossing the English Channel into France and parachute landings on Normandy’s beaches.

But the commemorative events don’t end there. There’s an entire program of happenings detailed on Normandy’s official tourism website leading up to, during, and following the main event. Some additional examples include a remembrance march through the streets of Carentan; the Normandy WWII International Film Festival; and the opening of the new 360-degree immersive room at the Caen Memorial in Calvados.

The United States will also be hosting a wide-spread array of events to remember the 75th anniversary. At The National WWII Museum in New Orleans (originally founded in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum), visitors can partake in a diverse range of free public programming including film screenings, panel discussions, live performances, a veterans parade, and more. A number of WWII veterans are confirmed to be in attendance during the week of activities. The museum also recently debuted a temporary special exhibit featuring the works of Guy de Montlaur, a French painter turned WWII soldier whose abstract masterpieces represent his wartime experience with a special focus on D-Day.

But the museum’s most anticipated event is a D-Day sailing to Normandy. Two luxury cruise ships have been exclusively chartered for the occasion: Seabourn Ovation (disembarking May 29 to June 7) and Regent Seven Seas Navigator (from May 30 to June 8). Some surviving veterans will also be on board, in addition to best-selling WWII authors and experts. This trip was designed for history buffs hoping to “follow the path of Germany’s conquest of western Europe and the Allied efforts to wrest control back from the Nazis in a path of liberation.”

Bedford, Virginia will also be hosting “The Final Salute: D-Day Plus 75 Years.” The all-day event is slated to highlight live music from the Enduring Freedom band and USO show; a “Profiles of Honor” mobile remembrance museum; and a Veterans Reunion gathering where people can meet with local D-Day veterans to hear their firsthand accounts. And in Wheaton, Illinois, The First Division Museum will host a day of celebration including live veteran story performances. Attendees will also be able to get up close and personal with the museum’s prized collection of historic WWII vehicles.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

To see even more, the D-Day Center website has compiled an extensive collection of additional major D-Day anniversary events and celebrations happening across France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. But even if you can’t make a trip to participate in the upcoming D-Day experiences listed above, there are still plenty of ways to join in.

Dr. Citino recommends checking in with your regional veterans organization, university, or museum to find out about any local events that might be in the works. “I would urge anyone interested to reach out to others in their cities, towns, and communities, and find out how your neighbors are remembering D-Day 75,” he says. “America is fortunate in having a well-developed civic and cultural culture, and there are so many ways to get involved.”

“And there is one other thing that any American can do,” he advises. “Pause sometime during June 6 and call to mind those young men approaching the beaches of Normandy...ready to put their lives at risk to liberate people whom they had never even met.”

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