The paratroopers went first.

The Normandy invasion began 75 years ago with overnight parachute drops and glider landings along with aerial bombings and naval bombardment.

In the early morning, the western Allies of World War II launched the largest amphibious invasion in history on the northern coast of France. The D-Day beach landings on June 6, 1944 were the start of the campaign to liberate Nazi-occupied northwestern Europe.

"The eyes of the world are upon you," Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied forces, told his men. "You will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny."

Eisenhower had to know the death toll would be enormous.

On the two American beachheads — Utah and Omaha — the United States suffered 2,501 killed in action on D-Day. In all, an estimated 4,414 men died on that single day, according to the latest figures.

For many of us, the movie "Saving Private Ryan" is our only reference point for the horror that occurred on that day. The movie depicted the battle so realistically that it triggered post-traumatic stress reactions among some D-Day survivors who watched it.

It was 24 hours that changed the world, forever.

But don't bother looking for a memorial commemorating this sacrifice among the monuments in Washington, D.C.

The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia. Bedford's Virginia National Guard unit lost 19 of its 34 men on the first day of the invasion and four more in subsequent battle.

Bedford's population in 1944 was about 3,200. Proportionally this community suffered the nation's severest D-Day losses. Recognizing Bedford as emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial there.

As stated by President George W. Bush in his dedication speech on June 6, 2001, "Fifty-seven years ago, America and the nations of Europe formed a bond that has never been broken. And all of us incurred a debt that can never be repaid. Today, as America dedicates our D-Day Memorial, we pray that our country will always be worthy of the courage that delivered us from evil and saved the free world."

There are two D-Day veterans in the care of the Veterans Affairs Community Living Center in Grand Junction. Unfortunately, the VA could not release their names. As of Wednesday, there were 443 World War II-era veterans enrolled and under the care of the VA Western Colorado Health Care System, according to a VA spokesman.

On this solemn day, we thank them all for their service and remember those who made the supreme sacrifice — not only for their country — but for the cause of liberty worldwide.

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