When Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944–otherwise known as D-Day–it would prove to be a decisive turn in World War II and for the fate of the Nazi regime. Nearly 70 years ago, gaining that momentum-shifting foothold in battle was cause for celebration.
Today, D-Day passes with relatively less jubilance, often in quiet memorials at the American cemeteries in France and at Arlington National Cemetery in the United States. But as nearly 1,000 World War II veterans are passing every day, more and more groups–such as the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., (the city that suffered the highest number of D-Day losses per capita of any town in the nation) and the National World War II Museum in New Orleans–are seeking to preserve as much of this dying history as they can.
That’s not always easy, even with surviving veterans. Normally talkative relatives who served in various theaters during World War II fell uncharacteristically silent when the subject came up. Occasionally a memory or two would slip, but for the most part, it stayed locked away.
In another lifetime, I worked at a small weekly newspaper in Alabama, where we’d often reach out to local veterans to tell their stories on Memorial Day, D-Day or Veterans Day. More often than not, they’d politely, but firmly decline, saying there was nothing heroic about what they did–they were merely just doing their duty.
Much like this general trajectory of events, the following six magazine covers marking D-Day in 1944 and since show multiple shifts in attitudes toward remembering this event.
Life magazine, June 26, 1944, “Liberty’s Light”: Marking the jubilance of the D-Day victory is this simple yet poignant cover. The Statue of Liberty stands as a hopeful light against the night sky, symbolic of the beginning of the eventual end of Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror in Europe.
Time magazine, May 28, 1984, “D-Day: Forty Years After the Great Crusade”: This cover features one of the iconic images of Allies arriving off the shores of Normandy on that fateful day. Such a splash is somewhat expected on this, a major anniversary, but little else is mentioned.
Newsweek magazine, June 11, 1984, “The Men Who Hit The Beaches”: While this cover is appropriately reflective on the 40th anniversary, it also signifies a shift in the remembrance. As elderly veterans die in larger numbers, the event takes on a more somber tone.
Newsweek magazine, May 12, 1994, “D-Day: Eyewitness To The Invasion”: Touting rare photos of the first landing inside, this cover shows off one of the lesser known images–and indicates an attitude of interest in preservation.
National Geographic magazine, June 2002, “Untold Stories of D-Day”: Nearly a decade later, preserving the battle stories takes on a sense of urgency. This cover features a tattered and fading U.S. flag, perhaps indicative of fading memories and greater numbers of dying veterans.
Time magazine, May 31, 2004, “D-Day: Why It Matters 60 Years Later”: This most recent D-Day cover takes on dual roles–and with it, perhaps another shift. Stories from men who were there are included and continue the efforts to record history. This anniversary edition’s second role, putting it in perspective for later generations, seems intent on keeping the battle’s importance and human sacrifice at the forefront of the nation’s collective memory.