Photo courtesy National Archives, photo no. 26-G-2343
A palpable sense of heroism and loss swept over tour group members as they surveyed the Normandy beach, where on June 6, 1944, the Allied invasion of German-occupied France—code name Operation Overlord—was launched.
“Hearing the story of D-Day by visiting the Normandy museums and then visiting the actual landing sites was a truly touching and sobering event,” said BJU vice provost for academic administration David Fisher, who led the University’s D-Day 75th Anniversary/WWII Remembrance Tour that visited multiple sites in France and England late last month.
“Our armed forces overcame unbelievable obstacles to establish a beachhead in Europe. It was encouraging to see how the French people in Normandy continue to express their appreciation for the Americans who helped liberate their region.”
“D-Day,” a U.S. military term to designate the launch date of a mission, proved to be the turning point of the war in Europe. Less than a year later, Germany signed an unconditional surrender. Numerous BJU graduates, including military chaplains, served in WWII and in subsequent conflicts around the globe.
Massive Joint Effort of Men and Machines
The June 6 joint military operation that stretched over five beaches along 50 miles of heavily fortified coastline involved more than 160,000 troops from eight nations, almost 5,000 Allied ships and landing craft, 10,500 aircraft and gliders and more than 2 million tons of equipment.
In the pre-dawn hours, American and British paratroopers dropped behind the intended invasion beaches with the objective of disrupting German communications, exits and reinforcement routes. As morning dawned cold and misty, the amphibious assault began.
By the end of the day, the Allies had gained a tenuous foothold. Five days after the invasion, troops began installing two temporary, portable harbors that had been constructed in England. Over the remaining course of the war, about 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tons of supplies were unloaded via the harbors.
South Carolina Connections
- Before the U.S. entered World War II, the federal government constructed or expanded military installations in South Carolina, including Camp Croft in Spartanburg, Camp Jackson in Columbia and the Navy Yard in Charleston. More than 900,000 soldiers received military training in South Carolina.
- The USS Laffey (DD-724) was among the ships that supported the Allied assault at the point codenamed Utah Beach. The destroyer, which is berthed at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, is one of three remaining D-Day ships.
- More than 165,000 Carolinians, including 2,500 women, served in the armed forces in World War II, plus thousands who moved to the state. South Carolina recorded 3,400 casualties.
- Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, less than 480,000 are alive today, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. That includes about 6,900—and dwindling monthly—from South Carolina.
- The 30th Infantry Division, an Army National Guard division from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee under the command of Maj. Gen. Leland S. Hobbs, landed in Normandy on June 11, 1944, and secured the Vire-et-Taute Canal on the way to spearheading Operation Cobra, which was intended to break the stalemate near the beachhead.
- South Carolina native James Byrnes, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and as governor, and was an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, was U.S. Secretary of State under President Harry S. Truman during the closing months of World War II.
Visiting Special Sites
These venues are among many that have ties to World War II, specifically D-Day:
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. In addition to the USS Laffey, the museum is home to the World War II aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10), the submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343), various aircraft, the Vietnam Experience Exhibit and the Medal of Honor Museum. On June 6, 10 veterans of D-Day are scheduled to be onboard the USS Yorktown to share their experiences. The flag that flew on the USS Laffey on June 6, 1944, will be unveiled after being restored.
The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. The rural town is home to the “Bedford Boys,” the 32-man unit that suffered the greatest proportional losses during the invasion of Normandy — losing 20 sons of the community of 3,200. The Bedford Boys was an inspiration for the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The museum, which tells the story of the American experience in “the war that changed the world,” is hosting many D-Day commemorative events throughout the month.
Also worth visiting is the South Carolina Memorial Garden in Columbia. Designed by landscape architect Loutrel W. Briggs and established in 1944–45, the garden is a space “expressed in beauty, a place apart, where one may go as to a sanctuary, and undisturbed, arrange one’s thoughts, and where all South Carolinians who served their country well in World War II may be offered grateful remembrance.”