NORMANDY, France — History is full of significant military dates and events. However, very few have had an impact on a global scale and left a historical footprint, such as D-Day.
"If any single day can credibly be presented as the defining moment of a century, it's 6 June 1944, the day of the allied landings at Normandy," said Peter Jennings, former executive director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The collaboration between a dozen Western-Allied countries made possible the success of the amphibious Normandy Invasion, also known as Operation Neptune. This operation was, so far, their most significant blow to Nazi Germany during World War II and the largest seaborne invasion in history. Among the U.S. forces, one of its most distinguished elements, who spearheaded the assault and whose accomplishments were pivotal to changing the tide of war, is the 1st Infantry Division, also known as the "Big Red One".
This year people in the town of Carentan, France, celebrated the 78th anniversary of the events that transpired on June 6, 1944.
In the early morning of D-Day, the division's motto of "No mission too difficult. No sacrifice too great. Duty first!" was put to the test.
U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, tasked the Big Red One Soldiers with capturing a 5-mile stretch of the coast of Normandy code-named Omaha Beach. The complexity of their mission at this beach was unlike any of the others. Omaha not only had harsh waters and terrain to maneuver in, but it was also one of the most restricted and heavily defended sections within Operation Neptune. For that reason, the combat-seasoned 1st Infantry Division was chosen, among other elements, to complete the task.
Being true to their motto, approximately 2,400 Soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice that day. However, it was not in vain. Thanks to them, more than 34,000 Allied troops were able to land at the beach by nightfall. During the next five days, the Big Red One drove inland and secured the remaining beachhead for the arrival of additional troops, equipment, and supplies. Subsequently, the division moved eastward across France and spent nearly six months of continuous fighting against the enemy. By the end of the campaign, 17 of its members were awarded the Medal of Honor.
Moreover, for their individual and collective actions on June 6, 1994, the Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division have three different monuments honoring them on the beaches of Normandy: the Signal Monument, the Charles Shay Indian Memorial, and the 1st Infantry Division Monument.
This region and its people have not forgotten.
According to the Mayor of Carentan, Jean-Pierre L'honneur, "while war still knocks on Europe's doors, it is more important than ever to remember the horrors of past conflicts, and how precious and fragile peace between people is."
Despite being thousands of miles from the U.S., the townspeople of Carentan haven't forgotten the courage and sacrifice displayed by the veterans of D-Day. Seventy-eight years later, that event remains a historic reminder of how the strength of the alliance and steadfast resolve to shared ideals proved to be the turning point in a brutal fight against tyranny.
A fight that spanned over three continents, raged for more than five years, and came with a staggering cost of hundreds of thousands of allied casualties and many more civilians.
That historic day on Omaha Beach, the Big Red One, didn't just help change the fate of WWII. In the fight for democracy, liberty, and human dignity, the 1st Infantry Division helped change the course of human history.
"No mission too difficult. No sacrifice too great. Duty first!"