On Tuesday morning, June 6, 1944, The Billings Gazette carried a banner headline on its front page:
ALLIES START INVASION
EISENHOWER ANNOUNCES TROOPS LANDING IN NORTHERN FRANCE
It was news that had been in the making for nearly four years. A map on that front page showed the French ports of Cherbourg and Le Havre on the English Channel where allied troops had been coming ashore for many hours before Gazette readers received their papers.
According to the National Archives, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the operation code-named “Overlord” gave the final order in the early morning hours of June 5 after meteorologists predicted a break in stormy weather.
He sent a message, his “Order of the Day,” to 175,000 “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,” Eisenhower wrote, continuing: “Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”
Although news of the war in France and Italy dominated The Gazette front page, there were daily reminders about the home front: “Save waste paper” admonished a notice in the upper left corner. “Buy extra war bonds” said the notice on the top right corner. And war raged on in the Pacific where, according to the June 6, 1944, Gazette, Chinese and American forces had gained 200 yards in a fierce battle against the Japanese at their Myitkyina base.
In a nationwide radio broadcast the night of June 5, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt “cautioned that this struggle with the Nazis would be tough and costly and that the day of Germany’s surrender ‘lies some distance ahead,’ ” according to an Associated Press report from Washington.
The largest land, sea and air invasion ever, D-Day launched a crucial military victory, but success came at great cost. Soldiers drowned in the chilling water, were gunned down by German fire on the beaches, and yet their brothers in arms pressed on. By the end of the day, about 4,900 Americans were killed, but 155,000 allied troops were in France and controlled 80 square miles of the coast, according to the National Archives.
Seventy years hence, few Americans alive remember that day, but all students of U.S. history know D-Day brought the pivotal change for victory in Europe less than a year later.
In Washington today, representatives of the World War II Allied nations will lay wreaths at the National World War II Memorial.
President Barack Obama is in Normandy today for ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary. French President Francois Holland will host Obama, along with Queen Elizabeth II, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, among other international leaders.
D-Day veterans will be honored today on the beaches where they fought and so many of their fellow soldiers died. Relatively few veterans survive 70 years after the battle, and this anniversary reminds Americans how little time is left to thank World War II veterans.
That urgency helped inspire Montanans to support nine Big Sky Honor Flights that ferried World War II vets on a chartered jet from Billings to Washington, D.C., for VIP tours of the World War II monument and other capital landmarks.
Today it’s time to give those men and women another salute. Thanks for your service in the war and in the generations since.