WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — D-Day is a military term that means “the first day of an operation.”
For many, D-Day refers to June 6, 1944 when approximately 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces invaded a 50-mile stretch of five beaches off the fortified coast of France’s Normandy region.
Seventy-five years after the largest amphibious military assault in history, the event is still remembered.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force has hosted two events to commemorate D-Day.
“D-Day was a huge success,” Museum Curator Jeff Dufford said. “It marked the end of the Nazi regime and the liberation of Europe.”
The first event took place May 13, during which the museum opened up a new augmented reality experience that takes participants through the D-Day experience as paratroopers, in addition to other activities. The second event took place on June 6 — the 75th anniversary — that included a ceremony, re-enactors, a wreath laying, films and more.
The June 6 museum event also included a flyover by aircraft that were involved in D-Day. The C-47 “Sky King” which successfully dropped 18 paratroopers with no casualties on D-Day, as well as the C-47A which primarily carried cargo and paratroopers.
“It’s a significant anniversary being the 75th,” Dufford said. “It’s the last significant anniversary we will have with D-Day veterans still with us. It’s important that we show gratitude and listen before those voices are silenced.”
Four World War II veterans who participated in D-Day were present for the ceremony June 6. Among those were Marion Adams, a U.S. Navy radioman 1st class. As a radioman, Adams said he could “know what was going on all over the world.”
His ship, the LST 491, docked at Utah Beach on June 6 and Omaha Beach on June 8 during the Normandy invasion, while additionally delivering parts of the 101st Airborne Division. His 21st birthday followed on June 11, when his ship delivered some British, Canadian, French and Polish forces onto Gold Beach. His ship would carry additional British forces to Juno Beach on June 18, transporting wounded individuals and prisoners back to England.
When asked what young people should learn about D-Day, he responded, “Everything they learn is good.”
“They don’t have to learn the German language,” Adams said. “We made it so they could live [free].”
Seventy-five years later, Adams said D-Day was still a short time ago. He highlighted that he and his wife were married for 68 years, but he said she passed away three years ago.
“D-Day veterans allowed us to enjoy freedom we have today,” said Maj. Gen. Carl Schaefer, deputy commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
D-Day was originally selected to take place on June 5, 1944 by General Dwight Eisenhower, but it was delayed by 24 hours due to bad weather.
On the morning of June 5, Eisenhower told troops, “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.”
By 6:30 a.m. June 6, 1944, British and Canadian forces captured beaches with code-names Gold, Juno and Sword, while U.S. forces captured those code-named Utah and Omaha. According to the museum, Omaha Beach resulted in 2,000 American casualties.
By dawn, paratroopers and glider troops were on the ground behind enemy lines. By the end of the day, approximately 156,000 troops were on the ground, storming Normandy’s beaches. According to the museum, more than 4,000 Allied troops made the ultimate sacrifice during the invasion, while thousands more were wounded or missing.
Director of the National Museum of the United States Air Force David Tillotson III, a member of the senior executive service, highlighted that Field Commander Erwin Rommel wrote in a letter to his wife that “the invasion will be the longest day.”
“[There were] 156,000 involved,” Tillotson said. “Of those, 13,000 were airborne and almost 50 percent of them were casualties — that’s a telling number — and yet the mission continued and was a success.”
Contact Whitney Vickers at 937-502-4532.