Thursday, June 6, 2024, marks the 80th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the monumental D-Day invasion that turned the tide of World War II. Yet, as we navigate through the websites of the NC Military Affairs Commission, the NC Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the NC Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, and the NC Museum of History (though they will have an event on “How Hip-Hop Took Shape in North Carolina — And Changed Everything”), we find a glaring omission: no events are planned to honor this pivotal historical moment.

In an era where our national politics are deeply fractured and leftist groups like Antifa have recently emerged to challenge what they perceive as modern fascism, it is more than disappointing that our state is failing to commemorate an actual battle against the actual fascism of Nazi Germany at such a significant milestone. This neglect disrespects the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation and misses an opportunity to unite us in remembering a defining fight for freedom. We should honor it.

In my office hangs a photograph of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower addressing the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of June 5, 1944. This image, captured just hours before these soldiers would make their daring nighttime jumps into Normandy, along with the American 82nd Airborne Division and the British 6th Airborne Division, is a powerful reminder of the immense will and tenacity that defined our nation during the Second World War, propelled us into the role of superpower, and established a new liberal world order. It was a moment that epitomized the determination of the free world to confront and dismantle tyranny. It is appropriate to reflect on the courage and resolve demonstrated by those who fought on the beaches and in the skies and contemplate the principles of freedom and democracy they valiantly defended.

The Great Crusade

As we commemorate this anniversary, we remember the sacrifices made by thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen who embarked on what General Dwight D. Eisenhower termed “the Great Crusade” in his “order of the day” on June 6, 1944. As Eisenhower wrote, “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

Operation Overlord was a massive military undertaking that required months of meticulous planning and coordination. The invasion involved over 156,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers landing on five beachheads codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. This operation also saw the largest armada assembled, consisting of more than 7,000 naval vessels, including battleships, destroyers, and landing craft.

The US Army’s 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions spearheaded the assault on Omaha Beach, facing fierce resistance from the entrenched German 352nd Infantry Division. The fighting was so intense on Omaha that in 2012 researchers discovered that 4% of the sand on the beach consists of shrapnel remnants.

At Utah Beach, the 4th Infantry Division encountered less resistance, thanks in part to effective pre-landing bombardments and the misdrops of airborne troops from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, which created confusion among German defenders.

The British and Canadian forces faced challenges on Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches. The 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, supported by the 8th Armoured Brigade, landed on Gold Beach, pushing inland to capture the town of Bayeux. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, landing on Juno Beach, achieved significant success despite initial heavy casualties. Meanwhile, the 3rd Infantry Division and British commandos landed on Sword Beach, aiming to capture the city of Caen.

Naval and air superiority

The naval component, known as Operation Neptune, was equally critical. The American and British navies provided fire support, cleared obstacles and mines, and transported troops and supplies. The bravery of the naval personnel was instrumental in establishing the beachheads and ensuring the flow of reinforcements and materiel.

Air superiority was another critical factor. In the weeks before D-Day, the Allies conducted extensive bombing campaigns by British Lancasters and American B-17s, targeting German supply lines, communication networks, and fortifications. On D-Day, over 11,000 aircraft supported the invasion, delivering paratroopers, providing air cover, and disrupting German reinforcements.

Despite careful planning, the operation faced significant challenges. The weather was a major concern, with the invasion delayed by a day due to poor conditions. Even then, rough seas led to disorganized landings and scattered units, particularly at Omaha Beach, where the first waves suffered devastating casualties.

Three Liberty ships, built in Wilmington, North Carolina — the SS Artemus Ward, SS James Iredell, and SS Matt W. Ransom — played a sacrificial role in the success of the Normandy invasion during World War II. These ships were intentionally scuttled as part of Operation Overlord to create “gooseberries,” artificial harbors designed to protect the landing beaches from rough seas and enemy fire. By sinking these vessels off Omaha Beach, the Allies formed a breakwater that provided a safer unloading zone for troops, vehicles, and supplies crucial for the sustained push into occupied France. The contribution of these North Carolina-built ships highlights the our state’s significant involvement in the war effort, demonstrating the far-reaching impact of American industrial and maritime capabilities in achieving victory.

Remembering D-Day 80 years later

The D-Day landings marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. Sadly, it seems many Americans no longer appreciate the importance of this victory or why we sacrificed so many American lives to achieve it. The absence of major events to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day in North Carolina’s capital makes this all too clear. In an era where those on both the left and right again look to government as a tool to accomplish their ideological aims, this fight for liberty should not be thoughtlessly forgotten.

The invasion of these particular French beaches is considered a strategic victory because the Germans and their allies had managed to march all the way to the west of Europe. Only Great Britain and her former colonies of the United States and Canada stood in the way of totalitarianism conquering the West.

Commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day is about honoring the past and today provides us an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to freedom and republican virtue. In doing so, let’s fight for the world that President Franklin Roosevelt prayed for in his radio address to the nation on D-Day, when he hoped for “a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.”