WWII vets mark D-Day anniversary in Normandy

CRICQUEVILLE-EN-BESSIN, France - More than 40 World War II veterans are to gather Monday on the French coast with American and French officials to rededicate a reopened monument to the D-Day invasion.

It was 67 years ago — on June 6, 1944 — that U.S. Army Rangers climbed the cliffs on a mission that Gen. Omar Bradley called the most dangerous assignment of the invasion.

The monument to the Rangers and German observation bunker it sits upon had been closed to the public for a decade because of safety concerns from decades of cliff erosion. A nearly $5 million project of the American Battle Monuments Commission stabilized the cliff and the bunker.

WWII veterans recall D-Day 67 years later

Commission Secretary Max Cleland said the 155mm guns in that bunker could have devastated the American landing on D-Day, had the Rangers failed.

Allied forces successfully invaded Normandy in one of the most massive, complicated and secret maneuvers in military history, Operation Overlord.

In two coordinated operations, 24,000 airborne troops attacked just after midnight. At 6:30 that morning, Operation Neptune brought 160,000 troops to the shores of Normandy in the largest amphibious assault in history.

The famous war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, tried to describe the scene just prior to landing:

"The best way I can describe this vast armada and the frantic urgency of the traffic is to suggest that you visualize New York City on its busiest day of the year and then just enlarge that scene until it takes in all the ocean the human eye can reach clear around the horizon and over the horizon. There are dozens of times that many."

Even with a massive armada, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower knew there was no certainty in war. He issued his historic message to the troops prior to their landing:

"You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you."

That message was delivered, but Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, kept another message in his pocket, one never used, to be read in case the invasion failed.

It did not fail, but it came with a high price.

By the end of the first day 9,000 men were dead, but more than 100,000 were ashore. Millions would soon follow.