Each year, June 6th marks the anniversary of D-Day, the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. This important event, notably the largest seaborne invasion in world history, took an entire year to coordinate and was a decisive turning point in the war that heralded the coming end of Adolf Hitler’s regime and a turning point for the war in Europe. This day, we pay tribute to the heroes who — with unequivocal patriotism, bravery and valor — stormed those terrifying shores to change the course of history.
Seventy-one years later, we, as Americans and West Virginians, reflect on the significance of that landmark day. More than 160,000 Allied troops fearlessly stormed 50 miles of Nazi-occupied beach on the coastline of France, where then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower had proclaimed, “We will accept nothing less than full victory.” As many returning soldiers have described it, the scene was bleak and hellish, but our forces went into the line of fire boldly with victory in sight.
I read a quote recently that truly defines the tenacity of our soldiers on that day. Vincent Di Bacco, a West Virginia hero who at Omaha Beach in 1944 said, “I had some trepidation about it, but we all felt like we owned the world,” he said. “We were anxious to get started, because we all wanted to get home.” It is undoubtedly because of this bravery that we declared victory in Normandy and went on to win the war.
Vital victories such as this, however, bear a tremendous cost. It is estimated that there were at least 10,000 Allied casualties on D-Day. Of those, 4,414 were confirmed deaths and 38 were soldiers from the Mountain State. As I always say, West Virginia is one of the most patriotic states in this nation, and we are proud of the number of veterans and active duty members that have served our military and served honorably and proudly. Today, we especially honor those 38 brave West Virginia souls.
Last year, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Normandy and stand alongside hundreds of World War II veterans as part of a ceremony held at Sword Beach. We saluted our heroes and paid tribute to those lost. As I stood beside the graves of West Virginians who had fought on D-Day, I was filled with tears and profound gratitude for their sacrifice. To stand where so many courageous soldiers had fought for our freedoms was a moving experience, and one that I will forever cherish and reflect upon.
Today, I draw upon that memory, as it puts into perspective the scale of the impact that day had on our lives. It is a sobering reminder of the hardships our veterans have endured and our military members are experiencing every single day to keep America free. The sacrifices and patriotism of our veterans know no bounds.
Our nation and our world will never forget the events of June 6, 1944. I hope that this weekend all West Virginians will take a moment to commemorate the heroes of D-Day and treasure the liberties gained by the sacrifices made by our men and women in service.