Blue and Gray troops watch as French coastline draws nearer on D-day landing. Note: Smoke, battle and smaller craft busy ferrying additional troops ashore. (Photo by Holbrook Bradley, The Baltimore Sun / June 5, 2014)

Seventy years ago today, more than 100,000 American, British and Canadian troops landed on a fortified section of French beach as they began what Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called "a great crusade" to liberate France and the rest of occupied Europe from the Germans.

The invasion touched many Harford County residents then and now, including men who directly participated in the bloody Normandy beach landings or the paratrooper jumps behind enemy lines in the hours leading to the beach landings.

"The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you," Eisenhower said in his recorded message to the sailors, soldiers and pilots who made up the massive invasion force that steamed across the English Channel and deposited the troops on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.

"In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world," Eisenhower continued.

Sign up to receive our free daily email newsletter: Bel Air Today

Other Harford residents who fought in the war were not direct participants in D-Day, but they were affected by the invasion that signaled the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, with the liberation of areas Hitler's war machine had overrun prior to 1944.

The D-Day invasion, known as Operation Overlord, cleared the way for the liberation of occupied France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, and Germany's surrender in May of 1945, less than a year later.

'We did a good job'

James Bradley Sr., of Pylesville, who turns 90 today (Friday), celebrated his 20th birthday crossing the English Channel toward northern France.

His Army unit, Troop B of the 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, was behind the main invasion force that landed on June 6. Bradley landed on the beach on June 9, according to a history prepared by his Pylesville friend and neighbor Bill Ward.

In an interview Thursday, Bradley noted the celebration of his 20th birthday was muted among his fellow troops.

"You don't celebrate something like that," he said. "Everybody was hoping that they didn't get killed."

Bradley was a private with the 38th Cavalry, which was attached to the Army's 1st Infantry Division as its soldiers fought through northern France on the drive to liberate Paris.

His mechanized cavalry unit served as a "spearhead" of the main body of troops.

"We'd go up front and find where the enemy was, then [the infantry] went in," Bradley recalled.

The 38th was also the first Allied unit into the French capital of Paris, according to Ward and Bradley.

"They came with wine bottles, everything," Bradley said of the Parisians. "They were so happy to see us; they really gave us a big celebration."

The celebration of Bradley's 90th birthday is expected to be much more festive. Ward said he and his neighbors plan to honor Bradley for his service when they celebrate his birthday Saturday, as well as the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Bradley's service included the liberation of Paris, fighting in the Ardennes Forest in eastern Belgium to stop the last major German counterattack of the war, a campaign commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge, and fighting in Germany.

"You might say his service was extraordinary, but it really wasn't," Ward explained. "It was typical of a young man at that point in our history; Jim is a member of the greatest generation."

The title "Greatest Generation" has been given to those who grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s and fought in World War II.