WASHINGTON -- Volunteers gathered in front of the World War II Memorial on Wednesday afternoon to begin reading the names of thousands of Americans who perished during the Battle of Normandy.
Despite the bright sunshine, there were candles at the ready. With nearly 9,000 fallen fighters to acknowledge, organizers anticipated they would continue long after the sun had set -- and finish at midnight or early today -- the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
If all went as planned, they finished about the same time as a U.S. congressional delegation neared European airspace. More than 70 lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., were expected to be on hand for today's commemorations in France.
No one is certain how many Americans died during Operation Overlord, the code name for the initial Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
Wednesday's names were taken from tombstones and markers at the Normandy American Cemetery. Only those who died between June 6 and Aug. 30, 1944, were on the list, which stretched across 436 pages.
Absent from the list were the fallen warriors whose final resting place is in the United States.
More than 400,000 U.S. servicemen died during the war -- 291,557 in battle and 113,842 others who died while serving, according to U.S. government counts.
Arkansas' sacrifice was also costly -- 3,814 casualties, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History.
Of the 16.1 million Americans who served in the war, fewer than 500,000 remain alive today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
One of the volunteers reading names, Lt. Col. Tammie Crews, said it was meaningful to participate in the event.
"I think it's very important to honor our fallen and ... to live our lives worthy of the sacrifices they made," Crews, a chaplain, said. "Having been a combat veteran myself of a different war, I think it's just so very important not to forget those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and their families as well."
The fight for the beaches of Normandy was fiercely waged, she said. "It's amazing anybody survived, and the courage and the tenacity that people had in those circumstances is absolutely amazing."
Laurence Hare, director of the University of Arkansas International and Global Studies Program and an associate professor of history, portrayed D-Day as a pivotal moment in the war.
"The invasion of Normandy was the largest amphibious invasion in world history," he said in a telephone interview.
There was plenty of uncertainty as well, he noted.
"There was no guarantee that it would be successful, and nobody knew if the Germans were going to be able to mobilize their armor to throw the Allies off the beach. So it was a pretty risky operation."
At Wednesday's ceremony in Washington, Josiah Bunting III, chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, said future generations of Americans need to hear about their "indebtedness to these brave men and women."
During an opening prayer, Crews summed up the sacrifices the fallen soldiers had made on America's behalf.
"Today we remember the thousands who gave all their tomorrows that we might have all of our todays," she said. "They shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
A Section on 06/06/2019
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