The invasion of France by Allied Forces on June 6, 1944, is a date in the American historical canon known sacredly as D-Day. 75 years ago, American servicemen, in conjunction with Allied forces from Canada and England, stormed the beaches of Normandy whose five beachheads codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword have become synonymous with the invasion.
The fight to retake Europe from the Axis powers and liberate a continent besieged by war became the overarching mission of the Allies.
More than 156,000 troops took part in Operation Neptune — the codename given to the largest amphibious landing in military history which was part of the Allies overall invasion of Western Europe known as Operation Overlord. According to the Department of Defense, more than 11,590 Allied aircraft and 6,939 naval vessels were utilized in the invasion force.
While June 5 was the original date of the invasion of France — postponed on account of severe weather over the English Channel — Supreme Allied Commander of Expeditionary Forces, General Dwight Eisenhower, upon giving the command to launch the armada of Allied forces on June 6, issued an order to the troops before their ships sailed for Normandy.
His inspiring words read in part:
“...The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”
The defeat of Hitler and Nazi Germany hung in the balance as wave after wave of troops landed ashore that morning; encountering defensive fortifications in the water and on the beach while taking a barrage of enemy machine gun and artillery fire.
Omaha Beach, in particular, was the scene of intense combat where 2,400 Americans were killed in action with many more wounded.
Among those troops who landed at Omaha Beach on June 6 and whose oral history is now preserved at The National WWII Museum is Vito Mastrangelo from California who participated in Soaring Valor in June 2018.
Once safely on the beach, Mastrangelo and his company quickly established cemeteries and graveside sites for those American troops killed in action. One of his first sights, he recalls, is seeing a driver of a jeep shot between the eyes.
The success of the invasion was aided in large part by a months-long air campaign by British and American forces which struck German encampments, aircraft factories and arms depots as well as strategic railways and bridges.
Taking part in pre-Normandy invasion bombing runs over Nazi-occupied France was Gary Sinise’s uncle Jack Sinise. The young Lieutenant flew aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress as a navigator with the 8th Air Force, 379th Bomb Group based out of Kimbolton, England airfield.
Jack’s wartime service in the skies above Europe was instrumental in Gary’s concerted effort to ensure that the stories from the Greatest Generation would forever be preserved in the archives of the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
Since we started Soaring Valor in 2015, the program has paved the way for more than 1,100 WWII veterans and their guardians to visit the museum along with more than 200 high school students from across the country.
For students, visiting the museum alongside veterans who participated in WWII is an immeasurable opportunity to learn this critical twentieth-century history beyond the pages of their textbooks from individuals who were actually there.
Pairing students with veterans not only fosters a lifelong relationship and generational connection, it affords the sharing of veterans’ stories and their contributions to freedom with students’ peers and their community.
In light of the most recent statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs documenting 348 WWII veterans passing away each day, it’s imperative to ensure that future generations learn from these living historians.
The Gary Sinise Foundation, in partnership with The National WWII Museum, provides a historian to further document the oral history of these veterans.
In a 2015 conversation with Dr. Gordon Mueller, President & CEO of The National World War II Museum, Gary spoke about the Soaring Valor program and its overarching mission to educate present and future generations about WWII and what it took to defend freedom.
“...we’re trying to spread that message of the importance of service and sacrifice and the importance of defending this nation and what it takes to defend this nation.”
Through Soaring Valor we’ve been able to add veterans’ stories to the historical record; providing generations to follow a holistic understanding of the heroism, sacrifices and contributions made by the men and women of the Greatest Generation whose selfless service helped ensure liberty and democratic freedom we enjoy today.
Even before troops began landing on the beaches of Normandy, thousands of Allied paratroopers had been dropped behind enemy lines in the predawn hours of June 6.
Tasked with destroying railroad lines and bridges among other objectives to prevent German reinforcements from reaching Normandy, the paratroopers helped launch the opening salvo on D-Day.
Ferrying airborne troops over the English Channel and dropping them in enemy-controlled territory before the first Higgins boats unloaded their troops in choppy and frigid water off the Normandy coast, was Henry Dubay, a C-47 transport pilot.
Before receiving his orders to report to England ahead of the Normandy invasion, he had been flying missions between North Africa and Italy throughout 1943. Dubay is a Soaring Valor participant who will be in attendance at The National WWII Museum for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
To the men and women of the Greatest Generation who helped defeat tyranny in the European and Pacific Theaters in order to protect liberty, we at the Gary Sinise Foundation thank you for your courageous service and sacrifice. The United States and countries around the world are forever indebted to you.