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Ideas

How the French saw D-Day

What World War II looked like when it was your village being overrun

On June 6, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. On that slate gray day, American forces waded ashore into a maelstrom of steel and fire, launching the bloody, heroic slog that would end the following year in Berlin. In countless books and ceremonies, we have devoted great attention to the liberators, our GIs.

Yet until recently, Americans have largely ignored the experience of the liberated, the French civilians—in particular the Normans—during those first days and weeks. After four years under the Nazi occupation, the men, women, and children of Normandy welcomed their liberators. But their gratitude was often mingled with confusion and bitterness: On D-Day, American firepower took 3,000 French civilian lives, as many as the Americans lost to German firepower at Omaha Beach. By the time Normandy was fully liberated, more than 20,000 civilians had died, most of them victims of the Allied bombings that pummeled the region’s cities and towns.

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