Remembering The Longest Day - June 6, 1944

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NORMANDY, France - June 6 marks the 66th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on the beaches near Normandy, France.

The invasion cost thousands of Allied lives, but was the pivotal military operation that finally brought about the end of World War II in Europe.

"For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow," President Reagan said during his address at Pointe de Hoc, Normandy on June 6, 1984 during the 40th anniversary of D-Day."

"Free nations had fallen. Jews cried out in the camps. Millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began," he continued. "Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

Sixty-five years ago in the English Channel, there were hundreds of ships and thousands of men, preparing to come ashore to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny. Over 9,000 of those brave Americans are still here today, and their monuments serve as a poignant reminder of the incredible cost of freedom."

Click to see a photo slideshow of the beaches of Normandy, France.  Photos by CBN News Producer Sarah Pollak.

On that day, the air hung thick with smoke and the seas ran red with the blood of heroic men. Now, the only reminders are the crumbling and broken German gun batteries looking out over the beaches where that great battle raged.

The job of taking out the coastal battery defense guns that guarded Point de Hoc fell to the second Ranger battalion. The Germans considered this place to be impenetrable because of the 120-foot cliffs all the way around.

"The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers-the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades," Reagan explained.

"And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up," he continued. "When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing.

The Rangers climbed those cliffs under withering fire and took over fifty percent casualties, but still accomplished the mission. Only when they reached the gun emplacements, they found them empty.

A memorial ceremony is being held this year at the U.S. cemetery overlooking Omaha beach.

Daniel Neese is the cemetery superintendent.

"One of the great privileges that I have is to be able to greet and meet the veterans when they come back to this cemetery," he said. "You meet these guys and they're heroes! These World War II vets, I don't care where they were at, they are heroes. As it stands right now, we've got fifty five-fifty six veterans that are planning on coming back, and I just can't wait to meet these vets.

And this may be one of the last times any of these survivors will make the journey. With the average age of World War II vets now over 85, the men still living who witnessed this great battle are dwindling by the day. But Neese is determined to make this year's ceremony unforgettable.

"I'm a guardian of our war dead," Neese explained. "And to me, that's probably the highest honor I could have ever earned."

"Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead," Reagan said. "Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened, 'I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.' Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died."

*Originally posted for the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, June 6, 2009. 

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Chuck Holton

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