However, by 1944, Hitler's forces had suffered a devastating defeat at Stalingrad and were getting driven back by the Soviet Red Army on the eastern front. The United States and Great Britain had mounted a successful invasion of Italy, but progress northward was slow and bloody.
A Western Front
The world's attention turned to the coast of France, where an amphibious assault was anticipated, though the Germans were unsure where. The assault came on June 6, 1944, along the Normandy coast farther west than Hitler had expected.
British and American forces carried out the major landings, with other allied countries and resistance movements contributing what they could.
The U.S./British high command considered the most important landing sites as those designated Utah (for the Americans) and Gold, Juno and Sword (for the British).
But the commanders feared that there was too much territory between those principal targets, so an American landing was also ordered under the bluffs of what was designated Omaha Beach.
As the invasion got underway, the landings at Omaha Beach proved particularly bloody with some 3,000 American troops dying in a desperate struggle to overcome well-entrenched Germans controlling the high ground.
Finally, Allied beachheads were established and the Germans were driven back, but the fighting across Normandy raged for more than two months. The losses were heavy on all sides.
Victory at Last
By the spring of 1945, the Red Army from the east and the U.S./British forces from the west had put an end to Hitler's Third Reich. The crazed dictator committed suicide in his Berlin bunker.
The defeat of German fascism also stopped Hitler's extermination plans, though not before nearly six million Jews and many other "undesirables" were put to death.
A year later, the Nuremberg Tribunal punished some of Germany's leading war criminals and established what were to be principles for a future peaceful world.
A visit to Normandy is a reminder of how important the United States was in stopping the madness.
The most lasting reminder of this American contribution is the cemetery at St. Laurent-sur-Mer, where more than 9,300 U.S. servicemen are buried under row upon row of white crosses and the occasional Star of David.
After the war had ended, the American dead were collected from across much of Europe. Their families were given the choice of repatriating the bodies or having them interred at this American cemetery near where they had died, including many with the date June 6, 1944.
The cemetery, which overlooks a section of Omaha Beach, has become a point of pilgrimage for many Americans, although during my visit on Aug. 5 there seemed to be even more French visitors paying their respects than Americans.
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