June 6 will mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day. That event is usually described in sweeping terms. It was, in fact, a massive seaborne landing on the beaches of Normandy, France, by tens of thousands of U.S., U.K., Canadian and Allied troops in 1944 that led, 11 months later, to the fall of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II in Europe.

But it was really the individual actions of each soldier that mattered, that collectively added up to the big story. For this anniversary, I wanted to get that up-close perspective.

Oral historian Joseph Harris Carpenter at the University of Texas at Arlington uses the troops’ own words to describe what it was like to be among the first wave of the invasion, approaching the beach under heavy fire.

Historian James Sandy, also at the University of Texas at Arlington, details the against-all-odds efforts of a new type of unit – the Army Rangers – to climb a 90-foot sheer cliff, while being shot at from above, and to provide key momentum to the invasion when it seemed hope might be fading.

Frank A. Blazich Jr., a curator of military history at the Smithsonian Institution, takes an even more personal approach, identifying five artifacts in the collection of the National Museum of American History that each tell a small piece of the much larger story of D-Day.

I didn’t forget about the big picture, though − and sought out a perspective even bigger than the Allied narrative about the invasion. Stephen Norris, a historian of Russia at Miami University, reveals what the Soviet media said about D-Day, which came almost exactly three years after the Soviets had begun fighting the Nazis.

Few of the courageous men who participated in the D-Day attack are still alive, but the fight against fascism continues, in the U.S. and around the world. Read on to remember what it took then − and what it still means now.

Jeff Inglis

Politics + Society Editor

Members of E Company of the 16th Infantry Regiment approach the Normandy beaches in the first wave of the D-Day invasion. National Park Service

‘The first wave went through hell’ – how the 16th Infantry Regiment’s heroism helped bring victory on D-Day

Joseph Harris Carpenter, University of Texas at Arlington

In the first wave to hit the beach, troops were met by withering German gunfire. But they kept pushing and established a small beachhead from which the invasion could continue.

U.S. Army Rangers prepare to depart England for the D-Day invasion. Photo12/UIG/Getty Images

Rangers led the way in the D-Day landings 80 years ago

James Sandy, University of Texas at Arlington

The fight up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and the battle across Omaha Beach were spearheaded by a relatively new type of unit: Army Rangers.

One of war photographer Robert Capa’s images shows a wave of troops arriving on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. Robert Capa via National Museum of American History

A jacket, a coin, a letter − relics of Omaha Beach battle tell the story of D-Day 80 years later

Frank A. Blazich Jr., Smithsonian Institution

Artifacts held in the National Museum of American History provide personal details about the Normandy invasion.

The Soviet Union’s leading newspaper only mentioned D-Day in small print at the very top of its front page on June 7, 1944. Pravda

Soviet media downplayed the significance of the D-Day invasion

Stephen Norris, Miami University

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said D-Day ‘was not a game changer’ in World War II – and Soviet media delivered that message starting the day after the invasion.

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