This past Thursday we appropriately recognized the 75th Anniversary of what we so commonly know as D-Day — June 6, 1944 when more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy France.

More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the Normandy landings, codenamed Operation Neptune (the landing) and Operation Overlord (the battle.) More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s troops.

The most frequently asked question by visitors to The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is: What does the “D” in D-Day mean? Disagreements between military historians and etymologists about the meaning of D-Day abound.

In Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day, June 6, 1944, The Climatic Battle of World War II, he writes, “Time magazine reported on June 12 {1944} that ‘as far as the U.S. Army can determine, the first use of D for Day, H for Hour was in Field Order No. 8 of the First Army, A.E.F., issued on September 20, 1918, which read, ‘The First Army will attack on H-Hour on D-Day with the object of forcing the evacuation of the St. Mihiel salient’.” And in Paul Dickinson’s War Slang, he quotes Robert Hendrickson’s Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, “Many explanations have been given for the meaning of D-Day, June 6. 1944, the day the Allies invaded Normandy from England during World War II. The Army has said that it is ‘simply an alliteration, as in H-Hour.’ Others say the first D in the word also stands for ‘day’ the term a code designation. The French maintain the D means ‘disembarkation’ still others say ‘debarkation,’ and the more poetic insist D-Day is short for ‘day of decision.” When someone wrote to General Eisenhower in 1964 asking for an explanation, his executive assistant Brigadier General Robert Schultz answered: ‘General Eisenhower asked me to respond to your letter. Be advised that any amphibious operation has a ‘departed date’; therefore, the shortened term ‘D-Day’ is used.”

D-Day came for the 45th Infantry Division and many of our area’s World War II veterans almost a year earlier on July 9-10, 1943 on the coast of Sicily. The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major campaign of World War II, in which the Allies took the island of Sicily from the Axis powers (the Kingdom of Italy and Nazi Germany.) It began with a large amphibious and airborne operation, followed by a six-week land campaign. Husky was the largest amphibious operation of World War II in terms of the size of the landing area and the number of troops put ashore on the first day, somewhere near half million troops. This D-Day lead to the invasion of Italy in September 1943 and the toppling of Mussolini. And it was in Sicily and Italy where the great World War II Generals Eisenhower and Patton became household names.

Bill Mauldin shared in memoir, The Brass Ring, his first hand account of he and his fellow southeast Oklahoma 45th Infantrymen’s experience on the beaches of Sicily, “You wouldn’t believe a land-locked body of tepid water could behave so violently…no sane army should have been afloat that day. Acoustically, there was a hell of a war going on as we chugged and pitched our way toward the beaches of Sicily.”

On June 6, 1944 while D-Day at Normandy was underway the 45th Infantry had fought their way tirelessly and with much casualty for a year along the peninsula of Italy and were securing Rome. Some members of the 45th Infantry were the very first among the allies to visit the Vatican. The Stars and Stripes shared, “For the 45th Division, the push on Rome climaxed the long Italian siege that began back in Sicily. On June 6, after reaching the historic hills on the far side, the division was placed in reserve and a few days later sent to Battipaglia for a well-deserved rest. From the time the division landed at Sicily until the day it was withdrawn after Rome, Thunderbird had been in the line 271 combat days.”

The 45th Infantry Division is most famous for defeating the Germans at Anzio, one of the decisive battles of World War II which took place in Italy, 35 miles from Rome. The 45th had made another amphibious landing at Anzio, surprising the Germans, but seven German divisions then launched a counter offensive against them in February 1944. The battle of Anzio lasted five long months before the 45th Division defeated the Germans and went on to capture Rome. The fierce battle at Anzio has come to be regarded as one of the greatest battles of all time, equal to Gettysburg, Verdun and Stalingrad, according to Flint Whitlock. The amphibious landing at Anzio turned out to be great practice for the landing on D-Day, which has overshadowed the heroic fight of the 45th at Anzio.

In August 1944, the 45th division landed in France and joined the 42nd Rainbow division on the drive through France and Germany. Together with the 42nd division, they captured Nuremberg, an important city for the Germans because it was where the Nazi party held its elaborate annual rallies. Then it was on to Munich, where the 45th and the 42nd captured the city on April 30, a week before the German surrender. It was on the drive toward Munich that the 45th was ordered to take the infamous Nazi concentration camp in the small town of Dachau, located about 12 miles northwest of the city.

During World War II, the 45th fought in 511 days of combat. Over 20,000 soldiers in the division were killed, wounded or missing in action. The major accomplishments, for which the 45th is remembered, are the liberation of 32,000 inmates at Dachau and the battle at Anzio, which was a turning point in the victory of the Allies in World War II. And the 45th actually had 4 D-Days Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and Southern France. They received this praise from Gen. George S. Patton: “Born at sea, baptized in blood, your fame shall never die. The 45th Division is one of the best, if not the best division, in American Arms.”