The Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day was one of the most complex military operations ever undertaken, but amid the intense preparation and planning for history's largest combined land, air, and sea operation, one commanding general kept it simple, scribbling out his war plans on a single piece of paper.
It arrived overnight and disappeared just as fast.
That's how historians have described North Carolina's Laurinburg-Maxton air base, a hub for military training during World War II. The vast majority of the United States' glider pilots were trained there, including the forces who played an unsung role in the D-Day invasion 75 years ago.
About 500 glider planes were used in the invasion, and 312 of those were from the United States. Of this number, almost all of them trained at Laurinburg-Maxton, about 90 miles east of Charlotte, said Frank Blazich, lead curator of military history at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
But despite the important role gliders played in transporting men and equipment, the base's contributions have been largely forgotten.
At a D-Day commemoration ceremony on Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth II was introduced to "leaders ... representing the allied nations that took part in D-Day," according to a tweet from The Royal Family, which included, um...German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
U.S. Army Rangers returned to the site of one of their most storied battles on Wednesday to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day and scaled the same Normandy cliffs their forebears climbed on June 6, 1944, which changed the trajectory of World War II.
When Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 – a bold invasion of Nazi-held territory that helped tip the balance of World War II — they were using a remarkable and entirely untested technology: artificial ports.
Reclaiming France's coastline was just the first challenge. After that, Allied troops planned to fight their way across the fields of France to liberate Paris and, finally, onto Berlin, where they would converge with the Soviet army to defeat Hitler.
When Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and his advisers pressed for this ambitious invasion of Nazi-occupied France, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was dubious.
"Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely."
As the sun set on the blood-stained beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's message to the thousands of Allied troops dispatched to carry out the largest amphibious landing in military history rang true.
The invasion, codenamed Operation Neptune and remembered as D-Day, sent roughly 156,000 British, Canadian, and American troops to the Nazi-occupied French coast by air and sea, beginning the multi-month Battle of Normandy and the liberation of Western Europe from Hitler's Wehrmacht. This week, as millions gather in Normandy to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, National WWII Museum senior historian Rob Citino emphasized that the impact of the landings came at a tremendous human toll. By the end of the Normandy campaign, hundreds of thousands of Allied and Axis soldiers and civilians had died and been wounded, with those involved in the initial landings suffering disproportionately.
"Certain sectors and certain minutes, casualties were 100 percent," Citino said.
Citino described the most perilous jobs American troops performed to help make the D-Day landings a World War II turning point. "It was bad enough but would have been worse," he says.