Spotlight: The 70th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944
Journey to the places and commemorate the events surrounding D-Day
"You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you." — General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Statement to Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force on June 6, 1944
What You’ll Find
This year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, which most of us know through history books, family members’ stories and memories, or through films like Steven Spielberg’s 1998 “Saving Private Ryan,” his 2001 miniseries “Band of Brothers” or Darryl F. Zanuck's 1962 classic, “The Longest Day.” Very few of D-Day’s heroic leaders or servicemen of the U.S., Canadian or British Allied Forces remain to tell firsthand of the meticulous planning, the relentless training or the stunning invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. Operation Overlord, launched on D-Day, remains the largest air, land and sea operation ever — landing over 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes and 150,000 servicemen on the French coast at Normandy. The poem "Omaha Beach" by veteran Peter A. Thomas describes the scene on that strip of coastline as the men crossed, all under incessant fire from German soldiers fortifying the cliffs above. When it was over, the Allied Forces suffered nearly 10,000 casualties and more than 4,000 were dead. But the invasion ultimately led to Germany’s unconditional surrender and ended Adolph Hitler’s dream of Nazi domination.
Immerse yourself in the history of D-Day and honor the valor and sacrifice of the leaders and servicemen who served on D-Day and its aftermath by visiting one of these places:
- Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home, Abilene, Kansas. The boy who would grow up to be the Supreme Allied Commander of Forces on D-Day and later, the 34th President of the United States, spent a significant portion of his childhood here. Eisenhower’s boyhood home is a typical 19th-century Midwestern structure and provides insight into Eisenhower’s early life. The library is open to researchers only, but the public can enjoy the visitor center, the museum and tours of the home. Through December 2016, the museum presents World War II Remembered: Leaders, Battles & Heroes a special exhibit that marks the 70th anniversary of the war. Check the D-Day events schedule for commemorative events.
- Eisenhower National Historic Site located in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is where Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, settled after his presidency. Visitors join house tours or follow self-guided cell phone tours of the grounds and farm. On June 7, 2014, the site commemorates the anniversary of Eisenhower’s D-Day launch and remembers the soldiers who made the landings. The park will offer the special program "Eisenhower and the Men of D-Day Commemoration and Cemetery Tour" for you to learn more about the D-Day invasion and Eisenhower's relationship with troops through a hands-on experience with equipment and uniforms (Note: This program is also offered twice daily from mid-June to mid-August). Also on the 7th, stroll through a living history encampment and talk to troops representing the 4th Infantry and 82nd Airborne Divisions.
- Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York honors the President of the United States and Commander in Chief during World War II. His family home, “Springdale,” was also his Summer White House. He formed a close partnership with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the war years—the two men met repeatedly at Springdale and developed wartime military strategies, agenda topics for conferences with other Allies and a vision for the post-war era. The library and museum share grounds with the home and the museum includes a section on World War II. Learn more about both FDR and First Lady Eleanor’s leadership during the war by reserving a guided tour of FDR’s home, his retreat at Top Cottage or of Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage. A combo tour also includes the nearby Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.
- The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, of which founder and D-Day veteran J. Robert "Bob" Slaughter wrote, “I am proud to say my generation helped save the world from tyranny, prevent the extinction of an entire group of people, and preserve the democratic freedoms of our wonderful American way of life. I wouldn’t change a thing, except to wish that my dear army buddies could be here to see and touch the magnificent National D-Day Memorial that was built for us all.” The Memorial is at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains near the town that proportionally suffered the nation's severest D-Day losses and that came to symbolize many communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day. Check for D-Day events on the Memorial’s website.
- The National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., is on the National Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and honors the men and women who served during the War. The twenty-four bronze bas-relief panels around the Memorial include depictions of the Normandy landings based on black and white photographs or newsreels of the era. Visitors can contemplate the Memorial on their own or join a National Park Service ranger-guided tour. Watch the Friends of the National World War II Memorial video “The Meaning of the Memorial” narrated by actor, Tom Hanks. The organization will also host a D-Day 70th Anniversary Commemoration at the Memorial on June 6.
- National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, focuses on the United States’ contributions to allied victory in World War II and especially the Battle of Normandy. The website "Trip Advisor" ranks this Smithsonian affiliate as the most popular attraction in New Orleans. The connection between D-Day and New Orleans may not be obvious — until you learn that the Higgins Boats — amphibious landing craft used extensively at Normandy and elsewhere in World War II — originated with New Orleans boat builder Andrew Higgins. His Eureka model, a shallow draft boat popular with oil drillers and trappers along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River, served as inspiration for the Higgins Boats later manufactured for the war effort. Eisenhower once called Higgins "the man who won the war for us."
Make Sure You
Research the stories, people and places of this critical operation. The websites listed above are a great place to start, or try these:
- Enjoy actual D-Day documents from the FDR Library Archives
- Download New Orleans: Home of the Higgins Boats (PDF) from the National World War II Museum
- View the Eisenhower National Historic Site's virtual museum exhibit
- Learn the full history of D-Day on the National D-Day Memorial’s website
If your plans include a trip to Europe, visit the D-Day beaches in Normandy, France, about two hours by train from Paris. Those who live here have not forgotten the courage of the British, Canadian and American forces who liberated them 70 years ago. The Normandy American Cemetery is a “must-see,” located in a tranquil setting on a cliff overlooking once-raging Omaha Beach. The cemetery is the final resting place for almost 10,000 American servicemen and women, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. Americans will find the cemetery paramount among numerous historic D-Day memorials and tributes along the coast, including Pointe du Hoc, where U.S. Army Rangers rappelled the cliffs at this heavily fortified German position, the Memorial Museum in the city of Caen, or the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, known for its appearance in D-Day films, its Parachute Memorial and the Airborne Museum dedicated to the U.S. paratroopers who liberated the town.
Use the websites above to plan your visit on D-Day or any time of year. If you can’t be at one of these special places on June 6, be sure and look for D-Day or World War II commemorative events taking place in your own home town, or take a private moment to pause and remember.
Did You Know?
Eisenhower originally selected June 5 as the ideal date for D-Day, based on the best phase of the moon, tides, and the time of day. On June 4, high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft and low clouds would prevent airmen from finding their targets. Postponing the invasion would have meant recalling men and ships that were already in position to go across, and increase the chances of detection. After much discussion with the other senior commanders, Eisenhower made the critical decision to launch the invasion on June 6. Although he did not know it then, had he rescheduled D-Day for the next suitable date two weeks later (with the correct tides but without the full moon), Allied Forces would have faced a major four-day storm and the landings on Normandy would have been impossible.