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“Into the Jaws of Death — U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire." A U.S. landing craft approaches Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion.Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard/National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons
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Canadian soldiers land on Courseulles Beach in Normandy during the D-Day invasion.STF/AFP/Getty Images
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American soldiers recover the dead on Omaha Beach following the completion of the initial assault of Operation Overlord.Walter Rosenblum/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
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Various American landing craft gather on Omaha Beach following the landings.U.S. Maritime Commission/Library of Congress
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U.S. troops, among the first to land, approach the beaches of Normandy, likely near Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.Robert F. Sargent/United States Coast Guard/Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images
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American soldiers, injured while storming Omaha Beach, recover just after the landings.Wikimedia Commons
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The lifeless body of an American soldier lies on Omaha Beach soon after the landings.National Archives
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During the D-Day landings, American soldiers pull survivors from a sunken landing craft onto shore at Omaha Beach.U.S. Army/Interim Archives/Getty Images
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American troops tend to the wounded and fallen on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion.Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images
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General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses soldiers just before the commencement of Operation Overlord.National Archives
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Hordes of military craft land on Omaha Beach as part of Operation Overlord.Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
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U.S. soldiers wait in a landing craft as it approaches Omaha Beach.Wikimedia Commons
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An American soldier in Normandy soon after the invasion.Bob Landry/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
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American craft cross the English Channel soon before landing in Normandy.PhotoQuest/Getty Images
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Reinforcements disembark from a landing barge on the beaches of Normandy.Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Soon after D-Day, American servicemen use a captured Nazi flag as a tablecloth.FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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A U.S. landing craft filled with troops approaches the French coast as part of Operation Overlord.Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images
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American soldiers land at Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion.U.S. Army Signal Corps./Wikimedia Commons
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German soldiers surrender to Allied troops in Quinville, France just after D-Day.U.S. Army/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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American paratroopers about to take off toward Normandy.Time Life Pictures/U.S. Air Force/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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U.S. Army Rangers sit on board a landing craft assault vessel in Weymouth Harbour, England as it prepares to head for Normandy. The soldier at the far left, First Sergeant Sandy Martin, was killed during the landing.Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images
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British soldiers assist the wounded at Sword Beach.Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia Commons
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American paratroopers about to take off for the Normandy invasion.National Archives/Wikimedia Commons
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American soldiers lie dead in the area of Omaha Beach.Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia Commons
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American soldiers are trying to help a comrade in the Easy Red beach sector.Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images
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British servicemen share a bottle of rum that they found floating in the ocean soon after landing in the area of Gold Beach.Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia Commons
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British troops escort captured German soldiers along Gold Beach.Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia Commons
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General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the day, "Full victory, nothing less," to paratroopers in England just before they board their planes to take part in the Normandy invasion.National Archives
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British soldiers transport a wounded comrade in the area of Sword Beach.Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia Commons
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French townspeople wave at arriving Allied forces just after D-Day.Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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British paratroopers pose with their toy mascot "Pegasus" just before commencing the Normandy invasion.Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia Commons
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British Royal Engineers share cocoa with a French boy in the area of Gold Beach during the initial phase of Operation Overlord.Imperial War Museums/Wikimedia Commons
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Canadian soldiers disembark at Juno Beach during the Normandy invasion.Library and Archives Canada/Wikimedia Commons
33 D-Day Photos That Capture The Heroism And Triumph Of The Allied Invasion
"You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months," began Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower's order of the day for June 6, 1944. "The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you."
As Allied troops boarded their transports in southern England bound for France's Normandy coast, they received a written copy of this order. And on any other day, such words might have sounded grandiose.
However, this was D-Day, the beginning of the Allied invasion of Western Europe. On this day, more than 160,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers spearheaded a campaign that would ultimately take them through Nazi-occupied France and into Germany, where they helped seal Allied victory in the European theater of World War II. On this day, Eisenhower's words certainly matched the gravity of the moment.
After receiving the order, Allied soldiers made their way across the English Channel, landed on the northern coast of France, and stormed the beaches while facing a well-entrenched German defensive line that had long been sitting there, waiting for this moment to arrive.
With a prepared German force ready to repel the Allies, the invading forces suffered enormous casualties over the course of just that one day. Most sources agree that more than 4,000 Allied soldiers died while another 6,000 or more lay injured or missing, but the true number of the Allies' D-Day casualties will almost certainly never be known for sure.
"When we got to the beach, I said to one of my men, Cpl. Meyers, `If there's a hell, this has got to be it,'" recalled American Army Sgt. Ray Lambert. "And it was about a minute later that he got a bullet in his head."
But while the Allies paid a high price, they won the day and established a beachhead at Normandy that allowed them to soon bring more than 2 million additional troops into France. With extraordinary aid from the Soviet forces fighting the Germans on the war's Eastern Front, Allied troops eventually stormed into Germany from the west and helped bring the Nazis to their defeat.
"It was unknowable then," President Barack Obama said of D-Day on its 65th anniversary in 2009, "but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only 6 miles long and 2 miles wide."
Obama's words, like Eisenhower's 65 years before, may sound overly lofty at first blush. But when you consider the full weight of what D-Day has meant to modern world history, such words are right on the mark.
See for yourself in the gallery of D-Day photos above.