Half of them were teenagers, and not very many among the 156,000 Allied troops were much older. They were heading for the beaches of Normandy and the Nazi fortress that was Western Europe in the largest sea and airborne invasion in history, a day known simply as
World War 2 had been raging for years, and wound up killing 80 million people before it ended a year later, but on June 6, 1944, it was still unclear who would win. Hitler’s war machine was still formidable, and still in possession of most of Europe.
A collection of farm boys, street kids and truck drivers carried 100 pounds of equipment and 6 months of training into battle against the experienced and disciplined Wermacht, conquerors of all of Europe, well armed and well supplied. The Allies took a calculated and somewhat brazen risk and bet all their marbles on the happy-go-lucky boys.
Well, the former grocery clerks and high school football players pulled it off, and took the beaches of Normandy from Hitler’s best troops, creating a staging area for the liberation of the rest of Europe. The cost was enormous; 12,000 dead and wounded in one day, the beaches a killing field for German machine gunners and artillery.
Those who fell that day, and in the following days of savage fighting, are buried in Normandy, their neat white headstones filling the horizon. Here’s to the happy-go-lucky boys who saved the world, and those who never came home.
•Suggested Activities: Remembering their joyful young faces.