A critical turning point in World War II will be the focus of a June 4 program at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.
Dr. Benjamin Jones will tell about the D-Day invasion of France by Allied forces in a program beginning at 7 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, June 4. Everyone is welcome to attend the free program.
“June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Without the D-Day invasion, the Allies may not have defeated the Nazi forces in Europe,” said Catherine Forsch, president of the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation. The foundation hosts the program and is the nonprofit fundraising partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society.
On June 6, 1944, more than 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops stormed 50 miles of Normandy’s beaches in northern France. The D-Day invasion, officially called Operation Overlord, had been years in the planning.
The invasion was carried out along five sections of beachfront codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
The D-Day invasion began before daylight on June 6 with paratroopers landing inland on the Utah and Sword beaches to cut off exits and destroy bridges to slow Nazi reinforcements.
The troops who stormed the five beaches faced not only the enemy, but bad weather. Rough seas made landings difficult. Many regiments came ashore far from their target destination. Anticipating an Allied invasion somewhere along the French coast, the Nazis had constructed the Atlantic Wall, a 2,400-mile line of bunker, landmines, and beach and water obstacles.
The heaviest fighting occurred at the Omaha and Juno beaches. The first waves of American fighters at Omaha Beach were cut down by German machine gun fire, and the first lines of Canadian troops at Juno Beach were also gunned down.
All five beaches were secured by June 11, however.
Because in part by the massive influx of troops and equipment, D-Day marked a turning point in the war. Less than a year later, on May 7, 1945, Germany signed an unconditional surrender.
Jones is the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Education. He has a doctorate in history from the University of Kansas. He retired from the United States Air Force after 23 years at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He has been an assistant professor of history at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He served in Afghanistan twice. Jones is the author of “Eisenhower’s Guerrillas, the Jedburghs, the Maquis, and the Liberation of France.”
Jones was dean of the College of Arts and Science at Dakota State University in Madison before leading the S.D. Department of Education.
The program is part of the History and Heritage Book Club sponsored by the foundation. The foundation sells several books about World War II in the Heritage Stores. They include “Dancing with Colonels,” “Lucky Stars and Gold Bars” and “Reveille for Sioux Falls.”
People can join in the program from locations other than the Cultural Heritage Center. People need a laptop or desktop computer with a camera, mic and speakers, and an internet connection using Google Chrome as their IE browser. Arrangements to join the program need to be made at least two days in advance by calling 605-773-6006.
About the South Dakota State Historical Society
The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call (605) 773-3458 or visit www.history.sd.gov for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call (605) 394-1936 for more information.
About the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation
The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation is a private charitable nonprofit that seeks funding to assist the South Dakota State Historical Society in programming and projects to preserve South Dakota’s history and heritage for future generations.