The world is commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a pivotal day in the history of World War II. But what does ‘D-Day’ stand for?
D-Day, the day of the Normandy landings, happened on June 6, 1944, 75 years ago.
Also known as “Operation Neptune,” it was the day the Allies invaded the beaches of German-occupied France and began the liberation of Western Europe. That critical moment in World War II is considered a keystone of victory.
There are a few critical dates in World War II history that are nicknamed with initials.
V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day, was celebrated on May 8, 1945. It commemorated the formal acceptance of Nazi German’s unconditional surrender to the Allies.
Adolf Hitler committed suicide days before the surrender, on April 30, 1945, and his sucessor, Karl Dönitz, authorized the surrender.
U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, who had suffered increasingly failing health over the years, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Georgia on April 12, 1945, during his fourth term in office. Roosevelt’s successor, President Harry Truman, was in office when the end of the war came.
It wasn’t the actual end of World War II, of course, because the war continued with Japan.
V-J Day, or Victory Over Japan Day, is celebrated on September 2, 1945. It commemorates Imperial Japan’s official surrender. Emporer Hirohito informed the Japanese people of the surrender on August 15, 1945, via a radio broadcast of a phonograph recording. But the documents that made the surrender official weren’t signed until Sept. 2.
Japan’s decision to surrender came after the United States dropped two atomic bombs. The first was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the second came three days later over Nagasaki.
With Japan’s surrender signed, World War II was officially over.
But unlike V-E Day or V-J Day, D-Day didn’t really stand for anything.
D-Day was a military term that was apparently in use as early as World War I. It was meant to serve as an unspecified date for a future action. When a big offense was planned but a specific time frame had not yet been determined, military planners would refer to the event as “D-Day.”
If a specific action was planned for a critical — but still-to-be-determined — time on that day, that timing would be referred to “H-Hour.”
So an attack in its early stages of planning might be imagined as happening at H-Hour on D-Day.
And a letter from then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who led American forces during the invasion, later claimed that it was a shortened form of “departed date,” which certainly doesn’t clear up the mystery.
Others have suggested that it stands for “Decision Day,” since the actual D-Day might well have been a deciding factor in the fate of the war. It’s a nice idea, but apparently not one that was necessarily on anyone’s mind at the time. Hindsight is always 20/20.
But since the Normandy Invasion, it’s difficult to imagine the D-Day name being used for any other event.
And we can thank the Greatest Generation for their sacrifices and courage to bring about the end of the war.