Friday marked the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Ceremonies along France's northern shore offered a chance for everyone to pause and remember the sacrifices made by Allied troops. While the operation was a success and changed the course of the war in Europe, it came at a great price.
Our Friday editorial looked back at the importance of that day - June 6, 1944 - and the sacrifices made while fighting to preserve our freedoms.
While in the course of trying to gather some information for that editorial, I came upon some interesting numbers. According to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the invasion involved 156,000 Allied troops representing the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Free France and Norway. There were 5,000 ships, 50,000 vehicles and 11,000 planes.
The casualties were massive - from the United States, 6,603 (1,465 killed); from the United Kingdom, 2,700; and from Canada, 1,074. German forces, it is estimated, suffered between 4,000 and 9,000 casualties.
According to numbers from the museum, by June 11, more than 326,000 Allied troops had crossed the French beaches, and opened the door to Hitler's inevitable demise. Paris was liberated just a few months later, on Aug. 25, and Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.
Those numbers offer reason for pause, certainly, but other figures presented by the museum are even more sobering. There are no solid statistics available on the number of living veterans from D-Day, but the museum estimates that total could be as low as 8,000.
Even more sobering is that the number of surviving veterans of World War II stands today at a little more than 1 million. Of that total, 55,853 live in Pennsylvania, 42,383 live in Ohio and 7,834 live in West Virginia, the museum adds.
On average, about 555 World War II veterans die each day, according to estimates from the Veterans Administration.
Those numbers add urgency to the stories such as the ones we've recently shared about Pete Lonchar and Milton Fabianich.
Lonchar was the subject of a profile written by Warren Scott that appeared in the April 14 edition ("95-year-old Weirton man receives diploma.") The story detailed the efforts of Lonchar, with the help of the staff at Valley Haven Geriatric Center, to obtain an honorary high school diploma, which was presented Tuesday night during Weir High's commencement ceremony. Lonchar, whose family circumstances forced him to drop out of school, served in World War II as a member of the Army Air Corps.
Fabianich, meanwhile, is the lone survivor of the Last Man Club of Weirton. He talked with Dave Gossett during the club's annual dinner held May 25 at American Legion Post 10. ("The last man standing," May 26.)
Now 87, he remembered how he joined the Army at the age of 17, his time in the service and the 95 men who were members of the club.
Their stories are important - they offer an insight into history that can be shared only by the people who actually experienced. It's critical that those memories be shared and preserved - the Veterans Administration estimates that by 2036, there will be no more living veterans of World War II.
(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)