By MICHAEL ANDERSON
The semester is ending and summer break is almost upon us. Students are making plans for interesting trips and rewarding activities.
Whether you’re enjoying a vacation or chasing your destiny at a summer job, take a few minutes to contemplate why you are able to do those things.
Consider the big plans college-age Americans were making 70 years ago in the summer of 1944.
They were about to strike some of the decisive blows of World War II.
The most popular summer destinations in 1944 were German-occupied France and the Japanese-held Mariana Islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian.
On June 6, 1944, about 160,000 soldiers, roughly half of them American, parachuted or rode landing craft into Normandy, supported by thousands of aircraft and the largest gathering of ships the world had ever seen.
D-Day, as the invasion is now known, was a gamble with enormous stakes.
If the Allies succeeded in establishing a beachhead, Nazi Germany would find itself squeezed between the advancing Soviet armies to the east and the forces in France. This would mean almost certain doom for the Nazi regime.
Failure would extend World War II for years, and possibly turn the tide in favor of the Axis powers.
American Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the commander of what was then known as “Operation Overlord,” was acutely aware of the day’s importance. Shortly before the attack, every participant received a message from Eisenhower. This is how it began:
“Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark on a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.
The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you.”
He was not exaggerating.
D-Day was one of the most momentous days in human history.
Despite suffering nearly 20,000 casualties in the first 24 hours, including more than 4,000 killed, the Allies prevailed. They established a beachhead and Adolf Hitler’s days were numbered.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the United States Marine Corps was preparing to take the Mariana Islands from the Imperial Japanese Army.
This was crucial to the war effort, as the Marianas were within heavy bomber range of mainland Japan. Several airfields were already in place.
The Marines attacked Saipan on June 15, Guam on July 21 and Tinian on July 24. The Americans took all three islands, thanks to the efforts of nearly 150,000 Marines and soldiers and hundreds of ships and planes.
About 6,000 American troops were killed and another 20,000 wounded attacking the Marianas, but they captured the airfields. That made possible the strategic bombing that crippled Japan.
On Aug. 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber took off from Tinian and dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. A few days later, the Americans dropped another nuclear bomb on Nagasaki.
Within days, the most devastating war ever fought was finally over.
The importance of the Allies’ victory in World War II cannot be overstated. It was won in large part by college-age Americans and their allies in the summer of ’44.