Why is Operation Overlord called D Day

75 Years of Operation Overlord: The Last Mission of the D-Day Witnesses

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Léon Gautier has lost a good friend. The former naval fusilier had volunteered for the small French commando that took part in the Allied landing operation Overlord on the English Channel on June 6, 1944, 75 years ago. Together with 156,000 American, British, Canadian and Polish soldiers, he helped liberate Europe from the Nazi yoke on that "D-Day".

Gautier says of himself that he is "not a hero". On the Normandy coast he was the second to jump into the water from the transport barge to board the beach under German gunfire. He had risked his life to drive the Germans out of France - but after the war a German became his best friend.

Wish of "never again"

It was also a Wehrmacht paratrooper who had fought against the Allied invasion. Johannes Börner, that was the man's name, stayed in Ouistreham after the war and opened a restaurant not far from the landing beaches. Later he often appeared together with Gautier to tell school classes or war tourists about that time - each from his military point of view, but united in the wish of "never again".

Johannes Börner died last year at the age of 92. His friend Gautier (96) wants to take part in the 75-year ceremonies of Operation Overlord for the last time on Thursday. "So that we don't forget what was then," the old man mumbles. "When I later saw the horrific pictures of the concentration camps, I knew that I had done well to fight."

In addition to Gautier, there are only two French people left who had recaptured their country on D-Day. "It will be the last round memorial day with survivors of D-Day," estimates Stéphan Grimaldi, head of the Caen Memorial, where a dozen heads of state and government will meet on Thursday.

The great-grandchildren of the veterans

It is true that the most important D-Day memorial today hardly has any veterans to be found. More like her great-grandchildren. Numerous school classes complete the thrilling history course. It does not begin on the cloudy morning of June 6, 1944 - but with the end of the First World War and the fateful Treaty of Versailles. He does not withhold the horror of the Holocaust, nor the collaboration between Vichy France and Hitler. And also not the destruction of Caen, long a taboo in France, by the bombs of the Allies, which killed 20,000 civilians in Normandy.

The journey through the 20th century does not only cover the Second World War: It extends to the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, which, as a documentary says, ended the division of Europe. And maybe also the ostracism of Germany. In front of the memorial, in addition to the blue, white and red flags of the Allies, there is also the black, red and yellow flag. That is "taken for granted today," says Grimaldi.

Germany first took part in the 60th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy in 2004. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who had not experienced the war himself, declared that the Allied landing was "not a victory over Germany, but for Germany".

Crucial Eastern Front held

The Russians had also been invited to Normandy since the end of the Cold War. Because of the annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin was avoided, if not cut off, by the Western powers in 2014. "That was a mistake," says Grimaldi. "The Russians did not take part in Operation Overlord, but they held the crucial Eastern Front and killed nearly 20 million people!"

Avoiding Donald Trump because he snubbed the Western alliance almost every day would be unthinkable: unlike the discreet French ex-soldier Gautier, the US President claims heroic status for his nation. Grimaldis Memorial, like all of France, continues to feel committed to the American liberators. But Caen also receives Trump with a subtle message. To mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Grimaldi is organizing an exhibition on the "four freedoms" with which US President Franklin D. Roosevelt pleaded for disarmament and international understanding in 1941 - freedom of speech, religious practice, freedom from material need and finally freedom from fear, for example of new wars.

The core content of this famous radio address later led to the UN Charter and the idea of ​​multilateralism. Trump, who is not a fan of such ideas, "unfortunately has no time", according to Grimaldi, to visit the exhibition with works by the illustrator Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). Individual pictures also denounce the racial segregation in the US southern states. The imposing Caen Memorial, which contrasts with the armed local museums, does not depend on Trump's visits: It attracts a thousand other visitors every day, even though the directly affected veterans from the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Poland and Germany are increasing die out.

Four million visitors

In the whole area, slaughter tourism is giving way to a more diverse presentation for those interested in history. Four million travelers visit the D-Day locations in Normandy every year - the highly competitive Pegasus Bridge, the Sainte-Mère-Église church, where an American parachutist got stuck on the church tower, or the chalk cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc, which many have climbed US rangers paid with their lives.

Huge concrete blocks still lie in the sand and in the water at the improvised landing port of Arromanches. The regional tourist office has been considering removing the unsightly D-Day relics from the beach for years. But the time is not yet ripe for it. At least not as long as the souvenir business is flourishing. Every now and then beach accessories mix with the militaria. There is also a curious mixture of gloomy black and white memories and busy preparation for the summer holidays on the promenades.

Just war and peace. More precisely: war yesterday, peace today. May it always stay that way. (Stefan Brändle from Caen, 5.6.2019)

KNOWLEDGE: The Normandy invasion in 1944

75 years after D-Day on June 6, 1944, traces of the battle between the Allied troops and the Nazi occupiers can be seen along the English Channel near the French Caen, including remains of bunkers and ports. More than 150,000 soldiers from the US, UK and Canada landed on five beaches, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, as part of Operation Overlord in the early hours of the morning. Both the time and the place came as a surprise to Hitler's generals, expecting an invasion near Calais. Thousands of Allied soldiers lost their lives on D-Day, the meaning of which is still unclear today. And yet the bridgehead brought about a decisive turning point in the war. (flon)