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80th anniversary: Mississippians honor those who served on D-Day

D-Day took place on June 6, 1944 when 150,000-plus troops from eight allied countries landed on the beaches of Normandy, France (Photo courtesy of the National WWII Museum)

Thursday marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day – the largest land, sea, and air invasion ever attempted – and Mississippians are reflecting on the lives lost during the invasion that continues to be pointed to as a turning point in World War II.

On June 6, 1944, 150,000-plus troops from eight allied countries landed on the beaches of Normandy, France in a bloody move that would elongate into months of fighting to ultimately help liberate Western Europe and bring down Nazi-led Germany. According to Tommy Lofton, director of the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum, over a hundred Mississippians lost their lives during the Normandy campaign.

“The most recent research that I was able to find showed about 25 or more Mississippians were killed,” Lofton said. “By the end of the campaign…I know that right now at the cemetery you see there in Normandy, we have 138 Mississippians buried there or have names there in the wall of the missing in action folks whose names or identities have not been released. That’s a significant number.”

Lofton added it’s equally important to remember the people who fought before D-Day, on D-Day, and in the ensuing months but were able to return home safely. Overall, more than 237,000 Mississippians served in the military between Sept. 1939 and Sept. 1945.

“We have and have had heroes scattered all over this state without our communities,” Lofton said. “We had quite a few people who came home. Frankly, some of them were in combat before Omaha beach. For some of them, this was their second and third invasion in the war and some of them went into further combat after D-Day.”

U.S. Congressman Michael Guest concurred with Lofton’s sentiments, taking time on the House floor this week to honor one of the many veterans who survived World War II before returning to Mississippi. Bilbo Rodgers, a Louisville native who served in the Army and fought on D-Day, presented an oral testimony at Southern Miss before his 2017 death recounting the fateful invasion.

Rodgers shared that he did not take his shoes off for three weeks because he and other allied soldiers may have to “run at any time” due to the near-constant ring of gunfire. To be able to sleep and feel somewhat safe, two partners would dig four-foot-deep foxholes to ensure they could not be seen by enemy soldiers.

“Bilbo Rodgers was one of the countless heroes that places themselves in harm’s way to help America and her allies defeat Nazi Germany and to protect the liberties and freedoms we still enjoy today,” Guest told his peers. “May we always remember the sacrifices of our brave warriors.”

Throughout the day, events have been taking place across both Mississippi and the nation to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

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