On a foggy morning 70 years ago today -- June 6, 1944 -- they plowed through churning seas to fight their way through swells that ran with blood, and then up beaches under withering fire in the expedition that saved the world.
They were just kids who knew not if they would survive, who knew only that it was their duty to go courageously forward for the good of their country, for the good of mankind.
D-Day. Operation Overlord. The Longest Day. A critical turning point of WWII. Onward to France. Onward to Germany. Onward to the defeat and death of Adolf Hitler.
Seven decades on, the world reveres the awe-inspiring service and sacrifice -- those who came home and those who lie under white crosses and stars in Normandy -- of the men who sallied forth to fulfill Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's promise:
"We will accept nothing less than full victory!"
Allied forces 150,000 strong executed the mission. Americans took the western end at beaches codenamed Utah and Omaha. The British took Gold and Sword, sandwiching the Canadians at Juno. Free Forces of Poland and France, proud nations subjugated by the Nazis, were there, too.
Some will be on hand as Allied leaders gather to laud their valor. The youngest of these modest heroes is 88, so it must be a profound salute.
While there had been battles in North Africa since 1942 and Italy since1943, defeating Hitler required a full-on invasion. The night before, D-1, 132,000 men readied to travel by sea and 24,000 to drop from the skies. Millions would follow.
The ground troops bobbed in darkness on nearly 7,000 vessels. Hitler's ablest commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, prepared the defense, but the great strategist proved no match for the armada that returned civilization to Europe.
The Western Allies would kill 200,000 Germans. In the East, the Red Army would kill many more: 3.4 million Germans who had slaughtered an unimaginable 20 million Soviets.
That is why Russian President Vladimir Putin will join Allied leaders in marking the invasion that forced Hitler to fight on two fronts and in recalling that the Soviets carried the load for three long brutal years that ground down the Nazis.
When day broke on the beaches, farm boys and city kids from across the U.S. earned their stripes as the Greatest Generation. Their numbers are sorrowfully dwindling while many who fell in battle are buried in French soil that is deemed American, British or Canadian territory in perpetuity.
Today we remember, always we'll remember with boundless gratitude and infinite admiration.
-- New York Daily News