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It’s no mystery why images of unremitting violence spring to mind when one hears the deceptively simple term, “D-Day.” We’ve all seen — in photos, movies, old news reels, and usually in grim black-and-white — what happened on the beaches of Normandy (codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword) as the Allies unleashed their historic assault against German defenses on June 6, 1944.
But in color photos taken before and after the invasion, LIFE magazine’s Frank Scherschel captured countless other, lesser-known scenes from the run-up to the onslaught and the heady weeks after: American troops training in small English towns; the French countryside, implausibly lush after the spectral landscape of the beachheads; the reception GIs enjoyed en route to the capital; the jubilant liberation of Paris itself.
As presented here, in masterfully restored color, Scherschel’s pictures — most of which were never published in LIFE — feel at-once profoundly familiar and somehow utterly, vividly new.
[Buy the LIFE book, D-Day: Remembering the Battle that Won the War — 70 Years Later]
A note on the photographer: Frank Scherschel (1907-1981) was an award-winning staff photographer for LIFE well into the 1950s. His younger brother Joe was a LIFE photographer, as well.
In addition to the Normandy invasion, Frank Scherschel photographed the war in the Pacific, the 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth, the 1956 Democratic National Convention, collective farming in Czechoslovakia, Sir Winston Churchill (many times), art collector Peggy Guggenheim, road racing at Le Mans, baseball, football, boxing, a beard-growing contest in Michigan and countless other people and events, both epic and forgotten.
Finally: Information on the specific locations or people who appear in these photographs is not always available; Scherschel and his colleagues simply did not have the means to provide that sort of data for every single one of the countless photographs they made throughout the war. When the locale or person depicted in an image in this gallery is known, it is noted in the caption.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.