Posted by Ancestry Team on June 5, 2015 in Collections, Moments in Time

The U.S. Army lands on the shores of Normany, France
[Image: U.S. Army via Flickr]
Tomorrow marks the anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1944 —the day the Allied troops invaded the beaches at Normandy, France— was the largest seaborne invasion in history and the first time since 1688 that an invading army successfully crossed the English Channel. The D-Day landings led to the liberation of France from Nazi control and have been called the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.

Check out these 7 fascinating facts about the day that changed the momentum of World War II.

  1. The Normandy Invasion was actually called “Operation Overlord.” The military called the landings at Normandy “Operation Neptune.”
  2. The “D” in “D-Day” didn’t stand for anything but is merely military talk for the day a military operation is set to start. Similarly, “H-Hour” is the hour a military operation is planned to take place.
  3. The Germans knew that an invasion was coming, but they did not know where or when. In the months before Normandy, the Allies went to great lengths to make them think the invasion would be at Pas-de-Calais. They created false army camps, vehicles, and even planes in England, across from Pas-de-Calais, and broadcast fraudulent radio transmissions.
  4. When Allied forces started landing at Normandy, Adolf Hitler was sound asleep and had left word that he was not to be disturbed. His generals were not authorized to order military reinforcements of their own accord. No one dared wake him, and the Nazis lost important hours.
  5. About 15,000 paratroopers landed in the French village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise after midnight on June 6. One American’s parachute got caught on the church’s spire, and he hung there for two hours before the Germans took him prisoner. The town has hung a dummy paratrooper from the spire ever since. Saint-Mere-Eglise was the first village liberated by the Allies; an American flag went up in front of the town hall at around 4:30 a.m.
  6. The U.S. Army used 20,000 shallow, flat-bottomed landing craft to land at Normandy. They had been designed by a Louisiana entrepreneur, Andrew Higgins, to rescue Mississippi River flood victims. Eisenhower once called Higgins “the man who won the war for us.”
  7. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., age 56 and the son of President (and Spanish-American War Rough Rider) Theodore Roosevelt, was the oldest man, and only general, in the first wave to storm Normandy. General Roosevelt’s son, Quentin Roosevelt II, was also in the first wave at Normandy. The general had health problems and injuries sustained in WWI, and charged the beach with a pistol and his cane. Realizing his unit had drifted a mile off course, he successfully modified their plans while under fire. A little more than a month after D-Day, he died of a heart attack and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Normandy. General Omar Bradley said Roosevelt displayed the single most heroic action he’d ever witnessed in combat.

Learn more about your WWII War heroes by learning more history, along with an exhaustive list of Ancestry’s WWII records here, “World War II Veterans: Researching the Greatest Generation.

– Leslie Lang



  1. Glaze55

    Fact Number 5 is NOT true. Saint-Mere-Eglise was one of the objectives of the 82nd Airborne Division, but the DZ’s were all outside of the town and only 1 Battalion, 1/505 had the objective of this town. The Airborn Division had an authorized strength of 7,000 troops which included the Glider troops. According to Anthony Beevor in D-Day, The Battle for Normandy, 2009, several platoons of the 82nd Airborne dropped in and around the town as planned. A paratrooper was hung up in the steeple of the church in the town.

  2. Personal reflections on D-Day

    Reawakened memories and emotions of a long-ago visit to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach prompted me to write the following D-Day tribute, dedicated “to our veterans of all wars and the family members who placed the blue and gold stars in their windows indicating a loved one was in service to our nation.

    Recently, on a beautiful spring day, I took my grandchildren, Nicolas and Mathew, to the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Green Hill Park. I tried to explain to them what this place means to their freedom and how sacred it is. While reading them the letters of our fallen heroes on the stones, I once again experienced an emotion that I previously felt so long ago in France.

    Forty years ago, while serving in the US Army in Europe, I visited the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, the site of the June 6, 1944, invasion. Curiosity and a desire to visit the grave of a friend’s father who fell there resulted in an indelible memory that was reawakened as we visited the veteran’s memorial here in Worcester.

    I hadn’t really thought about it, except in passing, for years. It’s about not one hero but hundreds. Over the years I would occasionally think about him, usually around June 6. I remembered that I was just looking for the grave of a friend’s father when I met this unknown hero. To this day I cannot describe the feeling. Even as I write this, I fill with emotion and the memory of that unforgettable moment in France.

    I can still feel the warmth of the afternoon on Omaha Beach. I can hear the crashing of the ocean against the now empty sands and remember the beautiful garden that housed the wall of honor inscribed with the names of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. I looked for the Massachusetts section and, as I turned toward the crosses, I seemed to feel the presence of an unknown spirit, in with the others but unnamed.

    The beauty of the garden filled my senses. The flowers, circled by the wall etched with their names, accented the massive statue that commemorates the battle. Its message inspired me to gaze on the nobility of it all. Yes, here death is noble. It was the first time I began to understand the meaning of my own existence. They were my age, but they were here forever.

    The site of the crosses and stars was overpowering, but I had to meet this unknown spirit. I left the garden and walked to the chapel in the center of the cemetery. As I approached, I could hear my footsteps on the pebbles and the constant crash of the surf. When I reached the chapel, the winds seemed to whisper what I was reading on the walls of this sacred edifice: “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” The words became etched in my mind and I still feel the chill in my body as I remember the Unknown Soldier and that warm beautiful day in France.

    The mosaic on the chapel ceiling recalled the works of Michelangelo. Mother Liberty with her son in arms responded to the defense of Europe. The mosaic flowed, depicting unthinkable carnage and, finally, the mother holding the star in her arms while shedding her tears for now and future generations.

    After a short prayer for the fallen, I left the chapel and again walked on the pebbles, overcome by the peaceful feeling here. Turing to my left, I entered and read the inscription on the first cross, something like Pvt. William Jones, age 19 June 6, 1944. I then read the second, Capt. Robert Smith, age 22 June 8, 1944 (he lived two days), and continue down the row. The Jewish kids had stars of David, Pvt. Samuel Levi, age 18 June 6, 1944. I again realized that they were all my age, that they hadn’t wanted to stay here anymore than I would have.

    As I continued reading, I finally met the spirit whose presence I had felt. The inscription read: Here lies a comrade who died in arms know only but to God.

    Even today, as I reflect on this I feel the chill and the sounds of the ocean and the smell of that beautiful summer day in France. For my generation, for my grandsons and all the generations to come – we thank you.

    William J. McClune
    Friday, June 6, 2003

  3. Your beautiful reflection makes me want to visit Omaha Beach – which is not something I’d ever thought about doing. Thanks for sharing those thoughts.

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