LAWRENCE — June 6 will mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that became a major turning point in World War II as more than a million American, British and Canadian soldiers began the brutal trek across Europe to defeat Adolf Hitler. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who grew up in Kansas, led the largest amphibious invasion in history on June 6, 1944, in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, France.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak in Normandy as part of the 70th anniversary ceremony. An estimated 550 American veterans of World War II die each day, according to Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, meaning this likely will be one of the final major D-Day anniversary celebrations to include living veterans.
The University of Kansas has experts who are available to comment on different aspects of the D-Day invasion and its place in World War II, American and world history.
Adrian Lewis, professor of history, can speak about the military strategy behind the invasion and its place in the history of warfare. Lewis is author of the 2001 book "Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory." He has also contributed to six documentaries related to the Normandy invasion, including a two-hour special episode of NOVA on PBS "D-Day's Sunken Secrets," in which he examined underwater wrecked ships, tanks and landing craft from the mission. In addition to his extensive scholarship on the Normandy invasion, Lewis, a retired Army major, also wrote the 2012 book "The American Culture of War: A History of American Military Force from World War II to Operation Enduring Freedom."
Lewis said the D-Day invasion, also known as Operation Overlord, was notable from a military perspective for the technological advancements the Allies implemented to prepare for the massive assault. Also, it became a success despite several failures in planning.
"The Normandy invasion was the most important operation of the war for the Americans and British, and it could have failed, as the battle for Omaha Beach demonstrates," Lewis said. "Soldiers, not generals, made the difference."
Theodore Wilson, a professor of 20th century U.S. political, military and diplomatic history, is available to talk about the Allied coalition and the decisions its leaders faced prior to D-Day. Wilson is general editor of the Modern War Studies series published by the University Press of Kansas. Of the more than 300 titles in the series, some 30 works focus on the Normandy invasion and related issues. He also edited the book "D-Day 1944" that outlines lessons and meanings behind the major invasion and why D-Day remains such a monumental event in national memory.
Wilson has also studied the selection and training of U.S. ground combat troops in the war. He said Allied troops faced a daunting task in execution of the strategy behind the Normandy invasion, which eventually led to the reopening of the Western Front of the war.