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April 15, 2024

D's and Days

By Van Lee

For the last sixty years, there has been one question repeatedly asked by novice historians. What does the "d" in D-day stand for? The most common answers include "doom," "death," and "destruction." Every one seems like a good answer. They certainly make sense. And they are all wrong. Ironically enough, the answer is in the very word itself.

In the simplest terms, the "d" is an abbreviation of day, in essence making D-day an abbreviation of the term "day-day." Now while this may seem redundant, the reasoning is very simple. D-day is the day of the invasion and is used as a point of reference before and after the invasion. One day before the invasion was D-1. One day after was D+1. The actual day of was of course D-day. Instead of listing the actual date or the operation name, the simplest means of conveying the days surrounding the invasion was the letter "d" and either plus or minus the number of relative days. Likewise, the actual hour that the invasion was to commence was known as H-hour (and yes, the "h" stands for hour).

Day-day and hour-hour certainly doesn't sound very exciting. Perhaps that is why there are so many who want to believe that it means "death," "doom," and "destruction." But since desire for it to mean something else isn't going to change reality, we may as well move on to something more exciting, talking about D-day itself.

On June 14, 1944, American forces stormed ashore the beaches of Saipan, an island in the Marianas chain and a stepping stone towards Japan itself. ...but wait, that isn't D-day is it?

Iwo Jima was invaded by American forces on February 19, 1945. ...that isn't D-day either, right?

D-Day was in Europe. On September 3, 1943 British forces land on the beaches of Italy and six days later, American forces landed on another Italian beachfront. But that isn't right either. D-day was in French territory.

On September 12, 1918, American forces attacked German troops at St. Mihiel. But that isn't even WWII!

Does this sound right? On June 6, 1944 American and British forces stormed five beaches at Normandy. The British (and Canadian) landed on beaches code-named Juno, Gold, and Sword while American forces landed at Omaha and Utah beaches. That is D-day, right? So what about all those other actions I mentioned? Each and every one is D-day.

The term D-day is used to designate all invasion operations. The term was actually first used in 1918 when the American Expeditionary Forces invaded the St. Mihiel salient. From that time forward, the U.S. military has used the term to mark any invasion. Every Pacific landing in WWII had their own D-day as did the landings in Italy and North Africa. The term was even used as recently as March 17, 2003, the beginning of combat operations in Iraq. So if all of these days are D-day, then why do people associate the June 6, 1944 invasion at Normandy with the term? There probably is not a real answer to that, but one can speculate it has to do with media coverage of the event. While the invasion was planned in secret, once it commenced, immediate coverage of it made it the single most visible part of the war to date at that time in the U.S. The invasion marked the beginning of the end for Hitler. For the first time, people heard the term D-day and in their minds, the term stuck.

There is nothing wrong with associating the term D-day with Operation Overlord (the official name for the invasion of Normandy), but the next time someone mentions D-day, just remember that in World War Two alone, there were over one-hundred operations in which the term D-day was used. Many were large operations such as the landings at Normandy, the invasions of Saipan and Okinawa, and the landings at North Africa. Then you had Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Leyte Gulf. At Tarawa, the Marines suffered their greatest number of casualties in a single day, a record that to this day stands and hopefully a tragic record that will never be broken. There was a D-day in WWI at St. Mihiel. The landing at Inchon in the Korean War was a D-day. The start of combat operations in Iraqi Freedom was a D-day. It is great to remember the service that our men performed at Normandy. Remember always the blood, sweat, and even the tears that were shed. And remember all the other D-days. Though they may not be readily recognized as D-day, they were all carried by blood, sweat, and tears, the same as Normandy.

Article © Van Lee. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-04-24
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