D-Day Flays Open the Soul

On June 6 in 1944, during World War II, around 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces crossed the English Channel and landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of Normandy, France. The deadly fight of D-Day thus began the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi dominance. By late August of that year, northern France would be liberated and the Allies would defeat the Germans the following spring.

One of the most famous depictions of D-Day occurred in Saving Private Ryan (1998), when the movie opened as the Allies arrive and land on Omaha Beach. The movie tries to capture the horrific and deadly chaos that the soldiers experienced as they made the historic landing.

Recently, CBS Sunday Morning featured a story about the Normandy invasion and some of its dark sides. The piece discusses the destruction of France and, as in almost any endeavor involving a large number of people, notes that some of the soldiers did not act honorably. [2016 Update: Unfortunately, the video is no longer available.]

Of course, the bad acts do not diminish the importance of the victory over the Nazis or the heroism of many others, but we should remember all aspects of the story to understand history. As Rick Atkinson, author of The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945, notes near the end of the video, “war really flays open the soul.”

Many brave souls rose to the occasion after being thrust in a dangerous situation, but some later showed they were not perfect. So on this anniversary of D-Day, we celebrate the victories but also remember the many types of losses that are inevitable when humans go to war.

What will you do to remember D-Day? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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