Sixty-six years ago Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people risked their lives to save the world for democracy. It was as simple as that, and as complicated as the Allied invasion of France's Normandy coast in World War II. Here are 10 facts about the events of June 6, 1944:
1. War photographer Robert Capa, who said, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough," landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. He took more than 100 pictures, but when the film was sent to London, a darkroom technician dried it too quickly and melted the emulsion, leaving fewer than a dozen pictures usable. Even so, those shaky and chaotic photos tell the story of Omaha Beach. A decade later, Capa got too close: He died in 1954 after stepping on a land mine in Indochina.2. In the weeks before D-Day, British intelligence was highly concerned about ... crossword puzzles. The London Daily Telegraph's recent puzzle answers had included Overlord and Neptune (the code names for the over-all operation and the landing operation), Utah and Omaha (the two American invasion beaches) and Mulberry (the code name for the artificial harbors planned after the invasion). Agents interrogated the puzzle-maker, a Surrey school headmaster named Leonard Dawe. Turns out, it was just a coincidence.
4. The Allied effort to hoodwink Adolf Hitler about the invasion was code-named Fortitude, and it was nearly as elaborate and detailed as the invasion itself. The Allies went so far as to parachute dummies, outfitted with firecrackers that exploded on impact, behind enemy lines as a diversion. Under an effort code-named Window, Allied airplanes dropped strips of aluminum foil cut to a length that corresponded to German radar waves. The effect created two phantom fleets of bombers out of thin air -- and ingenuity.
5. Among those who landed at Normandy on D-Day were J.D. Salinger (who went on to write "Catcher in the Rye"), Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (the president's son, who died of a heart attack a month later) and Elliot Richardson (attorney general under President Richard Nixon).
6. D-Day secrets were almost exposed in Chicago. A package from Supreme Headquarters in London arrived at a Chicago mail-sorting office a few months before D-Day and was accidentally opened. Its contents -- including the timetable and location of the invasion -- may have been seen by more than a dozen unauthorized people. The FBI found that a U.S. general's aide of German descent had sent the package to "The Ordnance Division, G-4" but had added the address of his sister in Chicago. The FBI concluded that the aide was overtired and had been thinking about his sister, who was ill. But just to be safe, the Chicago postal workers were put under surveillance and the aide was confined to quarters.
7. In a 1964 interview, Dwight Eisenhower said a single person "won the war for us." Was he referring to Gen. George Patton? Gen. Douglas MacArthur? No -- Andrew Higgins, who designed and built the amphibious assault crafts that allowed the Allies to storm the beaches of Normandy. The eccentric boat builder foresaw not only the Navy's acute need for small military crafts early on, but also the shortage of steel, so he gambled and bought the entire 1939 crop of mahogany from the Philippines. His New Orleans company produced thousands of the unimpressive-looking -- but vital -- boats for the war effort.
8. While U.S. forces were conducting a training exercise off the southwestern English coast to prepare for the landing on Utah Beach, German torpedo boats ambushed them. More than 700 Americans were killed -- a toll far worse than when U.S. forces actually took Utah Beach a few months later.
9. Woe be unto a politician who commits a gaffe during a D-Day remembrance. In 2004, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin referred to the "invasion of Norway" when he meant Normandy. Last year at an event with President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown cited "Obama Beach" when he meant "Omaha Beach."
10. France wasn't the only theater of action in early June 1944. On June 5, the B-29 Superfortress flew its first combat mission; the target: Bangkok. The day before that, U.S. forces were able to capture a German submarine off the African coast because they had broken the Enigma code and learned a sub was in the vicinity. On the eve of D-Day, the U.S. couldn't risk that the Germans would realize the code was cracked. So they hid away the sub and its captured crew until the end of the war, and the Germans assumed the vessel was lost at sea. But the U-505 would survive to become one of the most popular attractions at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune. Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "D-Day: Operation Overlord Day by Day" by Anthony Hall; "Bodyguard of Lies: The Extraordinary True Story Behind D-Day" by Anthony Cave Brown; "Soldiers Lost at Sea" by James E. Wise and Scott Baron; "Slightly Out of Focus" by Robert Capa; "Voices from D-Day" by Jonathan Bastable; "Fortitude: The D-Day Deception Campaign" by Roger Hesketh; " Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats That Won World War II" by Jerry E. Strahan; skylighters.org; U.S. Navy; Museum of Science and Industry.
10 things you might not know about D-Day
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.