Every five years, veterans have made the pilgrimage back to Omaha Beach, Normandy, the site of the D-Day invasion that historians credit with expediting the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II. As the National World War II Museum put it, "The way to appreciate D-Day’s importance is to contemplate what would have happened if it had failed."
After two years of planning in total secrecy, 150,000 British, Canadian and American soldiers crossed the English Channel during nightfall, arriving on the beaches of German-occupied France at Normandy at 6 a.m. on June 6, 1944. The surprise invasion led to an estimated 10,000 deaths on the Allied side, with nearly 2,000 Allied troops dying on Omaha Beach, the site of the most deadly skirmish of the battle.
In the years since, in addition to the regular commemorations that include staged reenactments and ceremonies led by heads of state of the United States, France, Canada, and the United Kingdom, France also commissioned a sculpture memorial, called Les Brave, to honor the dead. This year’s 75th anniversary memorial is likely to be one of the last with actual veterans of the battle present. Although 35 U.S. D-Day veterans are still expected to travel back to Omaha Beach this month, including medic Ray Lambert, Robert Dalessandro, who organizes the memorials on the American side, said recently to The Atlantic, “In my heart, I know this is the last time we’re going to get D-Day veterans to this ceremony.”
In honor of this year’s commemoration, here is a look back at how the D-Day memorials have evolved over time—and how the battle and the soldiers who fought in it cemented their place in world history.