Use the term D-day around a person who knows a little about history (even very little), and they picture GIs splashing onto a Normandy beach from a Higgins boat. Perhaps one of the iconic photos reproduced in this issue leaps to mind; perhaps it's a burned-in memory from Saving Private Ryan.
People savvy to military jargon know that there were countless D-days. The term refers to the scheduled start date of a military operation, just as H-hour signifies the time when the operation is supposed to begin. June 6, 1944, was D-day for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of France's Normandy region. Overlord's H-hour was 6:30 A.M. British double summer time (a form of daylight savings time). Once an operation begins, elapsed time is measured as D+1, D+2--and H+1, H+2--and so on.
So, what makes Normandy's D-day the D-day? After all, by JuneS 1944, there had been some pretty big D-days in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and all through the Pacific at places like Guadalcanal, New Georgia, Bougainville, New Britain, Kwajalein, Tarawa, even the Aleutian Islands. In all of those places, US and other Allied marines and troops, backed by air and naval forces, went head-to-head with the fighting men of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, or Imperial Japan in ferocious combat.
As author Eric Ethier points out in his narrative of Normandy's D-day in this very special issue, when American, Canadian, British, and other Allied soldiers and marines rushed onto the beaches of the Bay of the Seine on June 6, 1944, something important changed in the war's direction and dynamics, even in its very psychology. Suddenly, the Allies were hitting northwestern Europe, Adolf Hitler's heavily fortified domain. The free nations of the West were no longer nipping at the tentacles of the Nazi octopus; they were stabbing at the heart. And they were stabbing with numbers, resources, will, and cleverness that posed a serious threat to the solidity of Hitler's conquered empire and to the security of Germany itself. The extermination camps, massacres, and war crimes that the Allies had yet to discover would soon be exposed and avenged. And the arrogance of a regime that sought to rule the world, convinced of its own superiority, would be humbled.
Perhaps the reason Normandy's D-day is for us simply D-Day is that we look back at it from a privileged vantage point. Hindsight lets us recognize a noble quest against a genuinely evil regime, a rescue mission to liberate oppressed people with whom we share strong cultural and historical bonds. We can recognize the heroism of men who threw themselves into this quest with all their strength--even though not one of them would let you call him a hero without giving you an argument. And we can see how the world changed because of what they did.
James P. Kushlan
Editor and Publisher, America in WWII