U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

June 8, 2024

D-Day 80 Years Later

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

Thursday marked the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the major Allied landing on the beaches of Normandy, France, that turned the tide of war against Nazi Germany.

The Allied forces, consisting of soldiers and sailors from 12 countries, numbered 156,115 – nearly half were Americans. Over 11,500 aircraft and almost 7,000 naval vessels supported the largest amphibious assault in history.

The numbers were immense and so were the casualties – an estimated 10,000 men were killed or wounded that day as the Americans and other Allied forces fought to liberate Europe.

The amphibious landing, and subsequent victory at Normandy, was a testament of the Allies’ logistical and industrial power. D-Day opened another major front where the bulk of America’s Army could at last be brought to bear. D-Day also led to the liberation of France and denied the Nazis of key U-boat ports and V-weapons sites.

By the end of June 1944, over 850,000 soldiers had arrived on the beaches of Normandy and were on the march across Europe.

Beyond all the facts and figures involved with the landing are the individual stories of heroism and bravery. One such story is that of Leonard Schroeder, the first American to land on the beaches of Normandy at Utah Beach.

Leonard Schroeder, then a 25-year-old Army Captain from Maryland, was in the first wave of 20 Higgins boats. In his boat were 32 men and they arrived at Utah Beach at 6:28 am that morning, two minutes ahead of the scheduled H-Hour and thus ahead of their air support. Captain Schroeder led his men ashore wadding the final 100 yards from their landing craft to the beach through barbed wire while under machine gun fire from the Nazis. Half of the men on Captain Schroeder’s boat suffered casualties, including five fatalities. Captain Schroeder himself was shot twice but carried on leading his men into harm’s way. For his actions on D-Day, he earned the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

After the Normandy invasion, a Pentagon press release hailed him as “the first GI to invade Europe” and The Baltimore Sun wrote “when his boot touched French soil, it was a great moment in history.” Captain Schroeder’s story is one of thousands of examples of selfless bravery on the beaches of Normandy that day. Born in Linthicum Heights, he attended the University of Maryland on a full athletic scholarship. While at UMD, he joined the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in June 1941, months before the attack at Pearl Harbor which led the U.S. to into World War II.

After World War II, Schroeder continued to serve his country, ultimately serving 30 years on active duty and retiring as a Colonel in 1971. On the 50th anniversary of D-Day, Leonard reflected upon that historic day stating “Today, I realize that to be the first man ashore is an immense honor, yet I do not merit it more than anyone else. Five of my men died down there at Normandy. They alone are the heroes.”

President Joe Biden joined other world leaders in Normandy this week to mark this solemn anniversary. He gave tribute to the Americans and others like Schroeder who “served with honor when American and the world needed them most.” These were heroes fighting back against a dictatorship. The human cost was high, but, as President Biden said, “Freedom is worth it. Democracy is worth it. America is worth it. The world is worth it.”

Today, much like the years preceding World War II, there are countries challenging democratic norms in order to expand their autocratic regimes and suppress freedoms. We cannot take our democracy for granted.

The United States is the longest-standing democracy in the world, but our freedom has, does, and will come with a cost. D-Day is a moment to reflect on what our American heroes accomplished on the beaches of Normandy 80 years ago. Millions across the globe do not have the freedoms we enjoy in the United States, which have been hard earned across generations. As we write the next great chapter of American history, we should look to their example of good people coming together for the common cause of freedom. Together, we are unstoppable.   

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this topic, I value all of the feedback we receive.

In solidarity,

Ben Cardin