By Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno June 6, 2014
Good evening, as we all stand and sit here today on this beautiful June day, it might be unimaginable what happened 70 years ago. But it's incredibly important that we never forget what happened 70 years ago, when the most powerful force in our history began Operation Overlord. This is where nations came together to liberate France and the rest of Europe from the tyranny and oppression of a ruthless dictator and forever altered the course of History.
Distinguished Guests, fellow General Officers, and Admirals, thank you for joining in the celebration of this most momentous event.
On this night in 1944--the night before D-Day--more than 13,000 Allied paratroopers, including the U.S. 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, jumped into drop zones not far from here to secure the beach landings at Utah Beach, Sword Beach, and others on the Normandy coast. 70 years ago tonight, the Allied forces who stormed these beaches in the early morning of June 6th were loading ships, flying planes, and getting on transports in the cover of darkness. After many months of preparation, they were ready to begin.
The return to French soil was an incredible undertaking that required synchronization, training, and rehearsals. But more important than anything, it required the indomitable spirit of the Soldiers, the Sailors, and the Airmen. A spirit driven by personal courage, a commitment to each other, and a commitment to complete the mission.
The Allied effort was a comprehensive one. The Allies had already achieved air superiority in an aggressive air campaign against enemy aircraft and airfields across Europe. The English Channel was secure thanks to heroic naval actions. And French Resistance fighters had been disrupting enemy supply lines in the months and weeks leading to D-Day. But the Allied leaders understood that wars are ultimately won on Land, and that only direct action against the main body of the Axis' force could produce an Allied victory.
To achieve victory, the Allies assembled a staggering number of forces, with 39 Divisions slated to carry out the invasion; 19 of them American, including a Division that I had the incredible honor to command, the 4th ID. During this operation, it was commanded by Major General Raymond O. Barton who came ashore where we are gathered tonight at Utah Beach.
The names of the Beaches adjacent to us are equally unforgettable. Sword, Juno, and Gold Beaches are etched in our memories, with the British and Canadians performing so gallantly there. In total, the Allies landed more than 100,000 troops on five beaches on D-Day, establishing a lodgment the Germans could not repel.
As Americans, we can never forget the heroism of US forces that landed on Omaha Beach. On that morning, 34,000 US forces of the American 1st and 29th Divisions came ashore there, suffering thousands of casualties. Here on Utah, so decisive were the Allies that by 0945--within three hours of 4ID coming ashore--the enemy defending this beach had surrendered and Allied troops and supplies were moving inland. This is where the liberation of Europe truly began.
In a message to the force on D-Day, General Eisenhower famously called the invasion "the Great Crusade [to secure] for ourselves a free world. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!" What led to that victory--with Eisenhower later noting that "the war was won before the Rhine was crossed"--was the ingenuity, heroism, and spirit of the Allied Soldier. Those brave men, and the millions of men and women who served in support of them, gave and sacrificed more for our Nations than we can ever repay.
The men and women of the 1940s understood the necessity of their actions and sacrifice. American Soldiers, like those of our Allies, fought not for fame or recognition but because it was the right thing to do. These men, like so many Soldiers before and after, were ordinary men who accomplished extraordinary feats.
They stormed these beaches so that we might stand here tonight free and prosperous; they stormed these beaches so that their children, and their children's children, would live in a more inclusive world. They were steadfast and loyal to the mission at hand. They met their rendezvous with destiny head on. Tonight, 70 years later, it is important that we remember that their sacrifices changed the course of history and affected all future generations of Americans and Europeans alike. Simple Soldiers, some of whom have traveled here to Normandy to remember and honor their comrades. They were willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good of humanity. Thank God that they did. Thank you.