Today is the 70th anniversary of the “D-Day.” Iowa Goldstar Military Museum curator Mike Vogt says the June 6th 1944 landing on the beaches of Normandy, France was the largest amphibious operation of World War Two.
“Within approximately a good day and a good night , the allies — including the British, Canadians, and Americans — put about 175,000 soldiers ashore after the initial D-Day landings. So, within 24 to 36 hours, we’ve got almost 200,000 soldiers ashore,” Vogt says.
He says there was an equally impressive display of air power. “Ten-thousand airplanes participated in the campaign that day, dropping bombs from low altitude, high altitude. Half of those were fighters doing sweeps up and down the beach keeping German aircraft away and attacking supply routes to the Normandy beaches,” Vogt says.
The museum’s records show 262,638 Iowans participated in World War Two. Vogt says there’s no way to know how many of the Iowans were involved in the D-Day landings, but he knows of some who were there. “We do have individual stories, veterans who have come forward and shared their experiences with us,” Vogt says. “We can put a person in an engineer unit on Omaha Beach, we know of two individuals who were part of the 101st Airborne that are both pictured in a very iconic image of General Eisenhower addressing the 101st Airborne before they loaded the planes on the prior day, June 5th,” Vogt says.
Even with all the men and military might, the invasion was not assured of success. “General Eisenhower drafted two letters, one informing President Roosevelt that the landings were a success, the other informing President Roosevelt that he had given the order to withdraw the troops and pull back off the beaches of Normandy, and taking the blame for himself,” Vogt says.
He says the success of the invasion eventually led to American becoming a world superpower. “In General Eisenhower’s words, the Normandy invasion was the beginning of a Great Crusade to free Europe from the tyranny of Nazism,” Vogt says. He says one of the reasons the U.S. grew to be a world power was that most of the European nations were in ruins after the war and we were able to convert our economy after the war into making the commercial goods needed in those countries.
The Iowa Goldstar Military Museum has several artifacts from the D-Day invasion on display, including the picture Vogt talked about and general equipment worn by soldiers. “We also have a diorama built by a volunteer showing the western side of Omaha Beach. And a scale model showing the different types of invasion craft and Higgins boats that were used,” Vogt says, “and then also the extent of German defenses — concrete pill boxes, bunkers and things like that — as part of the Atlantic Wall to help propel an attempted Allied invasion.”
The museum has several displays chronicling Iowa’s involvement in the military, but Vogt says if you ever get a chance to talk to a veteran, that’s the best way to learn. “They are first-person informants. They are eyewitnesses, actual participants, no history book is going to get it as good as a veteran who was actually there,” Vogt says. “So, if they’re willing, learn their stories, find out what they did, what they saw, how they felt.”
The museum’s information says 8,398 Iowans died serving in World War Two.