Earlier this week, many historically attuned people remembered and commemorated the 78th anniversary of the Allied landings on the shores of Normandy, France, in what was called D-day. Foreshadowing the ultimate fall of Hitler's Third Reich, this event is rightly celebrated with reminders of the sacrifices made by the thousands of soldiers and sailors involved in that great invasion.
But that D-day was, in reality, only one of many D-days during World War II. There were many such amphibious landings during the course of the war in both the European and Pacific theaters. Unfortunately, those have been overshadowed by the June 6, 1944, landing on the beaches of Normandy. Nonetheless, each such landing was a step that contributed to the fall of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis that had brought such suffering and loss of life and freedom to so much of the world.
Lest we forget the men who suffered and died in those oft-overlooked invasi0ns, it is good to remember them as well as the singular event in France.
The Americans began to take offensive, rather than merely defensive, action against Japan in Operation Watchtower, the invasion in a little-known jungle area called Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942, a mere 8 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Richard Tregaskis wrote a riveting first-hand, eye-witness account of that bloody struggle in his book Guadalcanal Diary, published in 1943. (That book was one of several that I read in the fifth and sixth grades that sparked my interest in military history.) D-day on Guadalcanal marked the beginning of the end for Japan's military regime.
But yet another landing took place on the other side of the world on 8 November 1942. Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, foreshadowed the end of Italian and German control of that continent and their threat to the vital Suez Canal. it also provided the Allies a
jumping-off point for the subsequent invasion landings on the "soft underbelly" of Europe (Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, 10 July 1943; Operation Avalanche, the landings at Salerno, Italy, 9 September 1943; and Operation Shingle, the difficult landings at Anzio, Italy, 22 January 1944).
Perhaps the least known of the major landings of the war occurred on U.S. soil. In Operations Landcrab and Cottage on 11 May and 15 August 1943, respectively, American forces landed on the islands of Attu and Kiska to expel Japanese troops who had occupied those isolated spots along the Aleutian chain of Alaska. On Attu, the Americans faced a cold, bitter fight in extreme weather; on Kiska, they discovered that the enemy had vacated the island.
Throughout the rest of the war, U.S. Marines launched amphibious assaults on then little-known dots on the map as they island hopped across the Pacific toward Japan. Operation Cherry Blossom, Bougainville (1 November 1943); Operation Galvanic, Tarawa and Makin Islands (20-23 November 1943); Operation Flintlock, Kwajalein (31 January 1944); Operation Catchpole, Eniwetok (17 February 1944); and Operation Persecution, New Guinea (22 April 1944). And others.
Although the war in Europe ended 8 May 1945, in the Pacific it was still going on. Many bloody amphibious D-days lay ahead. Operation Detachment, Iwo Jima (15 February 1945); Operation Iceberg, Okinawa (1 April 1945); and Operation Forager, the Mariana and Palau Islands (15 June 1945).
Each of these landings were, in their own unique way, vital to the successful ending of the war. Each death and each casualty suffered in each of those D-days (for that was the term applied to the scheduled date of each landing, not just the Normandy landing) meant just as much to the families of the victims as each casualty on the beaches of Normandy.
Whether it occurred in the frigid air of Attu, in the steamy jungles of Guadalcanal, in the hot sands of North Africa, or under the shadow of the cliffs of Omaha Beach, every D-day mattered, every life lost and every wound received mattered.
Our commemoration should not begin and end with the June 6, 1944, event. Let's always remember the steep price paid by so many thousands of men on those other, less acclaimed D-days.