This Day (Decisive-ish Edition)

Published:June 6, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1944, the Allies invaded Europe. The town of Bedford, Virginia, lost nineteen of its men engaged that day, all members of Company A, 29th Infantry Division. (Four more Bedford soldiers died later in the campaign.) For that reason (and others more political and less fittingly symbolic), on this day in 2001 U.S. president George W. Bush dedicated the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. The original design was modest, but you know how these things go. It got bigger, and by 2002 the D-Day Memorial Foundation had gone bankrupt and its director was tried in federal court for fraud … twice. Hung jury both times.

Back to D-Day, though. Our entry describes the memorial as a “colossus,” and maybe that’s appropriate. After all, D-Day looms rather large in our collective memory, and not just because of Band of Brothers. The invasion, the memorial’s website tells us, was “epic in scope” and so large it was “hard to conceive.” Which leads one to wonder how many men were killed and wounded on that day. This was, after all, the “decisive battle,” according to the folks at the memorial. So how many? A hundred thousand? Fifty thousand?

The memorial’s website says 10,000, but in her book The War Complex: World War II in Our Time (2006), Marianna Torgovnick estimates Allied casualties at less than half that, or about 4,900. Of those, 3,581 were Americans. That’s a lot, no doubt. But consider the more than three-quarters of a million Soviets who fell at Stalingrad. Torgovnick is quick to add that it’s not a contest; it’s just that for reasons both cultural and political, D-Day is the battle for Americans.

Oh, and for those of you who might object that D-Day—apart from the full Normandy campaign—was but 24 hours while Stalingrad lasted 199 days, here’s some quick math: At a rate of 3,581 casualties per day over 199 days, you still end up with 712,619 killed and wounded, or about ten days of slaughter short. But imagine it: 209 consecutive D-Days!

A version of this post was originally published on June 6, 2011.

IMAGEAllied troops, June 6, 1944 (Corbis)