As world leaders gathered in England and France to solemnly mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France on June 6, 1944, it is necessary and compelling to remember those lost. These brave Americans and members of the Allied Forces who rushed the beaches of Normandy from landing craft should never be forgotten.
The scope of their sacrifice is found in the cemeteries in Normandy, France, and upon visiting there with my family last year, I felt myself trembling with awe and overwhelmed with reverence. My father came onto those shores 75 years ago and survived, but many did not. Understanding how over 5000 Americans died and over 12,000 were wounded is not difficult. They who stormed the beaches under heavy fire knew why they were there – to defeat the greatest evil the world has ever known.
A pilgrimage to Normandy is essential for Americans to understand the sacrifice but also to see how well those lost have been honored. It is a sacred place where the wind and the sea share their memories of how those young men perished valiantly for freedom’s sake. They were witnesses as was the pale sandy beach that became soaked with American and Allied blood as the big guns of the pernicious enemy cut them down.
Despite the onslaught, American and Allied Forces kept coming. There were too many of them coming ashore, and eventually they prevailed that day, and then in the days and weeks ahead began to turn the tide of the war. In the end Hitler’s “Thousand-Year Reich” was decimated within a year, its evil crushed under the boots of those young men and women who risked their lives for the sake of not just their nation but the world.
75 years seems like an eternity to young people like my children. They have heard about Papa’s experiences from me, mostly because my Dad didn’t like talking about the war too much. He saw too many horrors, lost too many friends, and was wounded himself (not on D-Day). Dad would tell me some stories, but only if I asked and persisted. He never told the kids any of them, and after he passed away they wanted to know why, and I said because they were to hard for him to tell.
Looking back though he did drive around in a car with DAV – Disabled American Veteran – license plates and was a dedicated member of his Veterans of Foreign War post for many years. He marched in parades and wore his uniform for events at the post with pride. Mostly it seems that he kept his war stories among his buddies at the post, probably because they were the ones who could understand the terrible incidents better than anyone.
Veterans that I have known have shown appreciation for acknowledgement of their service, but their pride is tempered by humility. Guys like my father knew how fortunate they were to be able to come home when so many did not, and over the years spent around them I never heard anyone bragging.
So as we honor those who served so bravely and courageously that June 6, 1944, it is necessary to note that we are losing those who survived at a rapid pace. Of the 16,000,000 Americans who served during World War II, there are only 499,767 still living (as of 2018), and it is estimated about 350 WWII veterans die each day.
I purposely watched Saving Private Ryan again on Memorial Day, and every time I see it I think of watching it with my Dad many years ago. After the film was over he sat there tough as ever but his voice cracked as he said, “They got it right.”
I ask everyone reading this article to watch the full scene of the soldiers coming ashore at Normandy on that day on Omaha Beach. After watching this scene, I think you will agree that no “Thank You” would ever be enough, no amount of glory or honor would ever be sufficient, to assuage the grief those survivors shared with one another.
I think it should be mandatory for this scene to be shown in American history classes all across our nation because 75 years is a long time, but that moment in time should be remembered now and forever.