Seventy-four years ago, more than 70,000 gallant young Americans surged onto the beaches of Normandy, France to begin the process of reclaiming Continental Europe for liberty. In doing so, they quite literally saved the world.
These are the reflections of one millennial who desperately desires to remember their stories.
I cannot help but recall my trip to France in the summer of 2010 to see the sites firsthand. I went on a Hillsdale College Study Abroad trip one month before matriculating as a freshman. During our trip, we spent time on each of the beaches and at the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. I remember looking around and seeing beautifully-kept white crosses and Stars of David as far as my eyes could see, my eyes bursting into tears as I considered the lives those crosses represented. They came from towns large and small, from Alliance, Nebraska to New York City, united in a commitment to defending liberty.
I remember looking at the names and places engraved on each white marker, taking a moment to say a quick “thank you!” in my head before moving to the next one. Very soon after, I stopped at one that looked different:
“Here Rests in Honored Glory
A Comrade in Arms
Known But to God”
WHAT! To a fresh-eyed 18-year-old, that packed quite a wallop. In front of me lay an American man (perhaps my age, even!) who paid the ultimate price for my freedom, yet I couldn’t even thank him by name because we didn’t know his name! The magnitude of that brought me to my knees. Oh how I wished I knew his name, his story, anything!
My grandfather served as a Navy Medic in WWII and never had the opportunity to travel to France, so one of my greatest honors in life was to share these photos with him just days before he died. I am in tears now even thinking about it.
I remember being struck by the French citizens who sunbathed on the beaches and swam in the water while we were there. At first, I was taken aback, thinking "This is a grave-site! This is hallowed ground! How can they do that?!" Then, I realized that was the very reason those men gave their lives: to reclaim the world for freedom and to enable French citizens to do just that! It's a powerful moment I will remember forever.
It is exceedingly sad to me that so many are ignorant of the details of this great battle. According to the University of Connecticut, in 1994, only 27% (!) of Americans were able to recall the purpose of D-Day, and in 2004, 40% of Americans (!!!) failed to identify Germany as the adversary.
I will never forget the memory of those men who paid the ultimate price in defense of freedom, and I pray you will do the same.
Maybe you can’t go to France personally and pay your respects. Maybe you can’t watch a two-hour documentary on the subject. But please, honor the memory of these gallant men by taking 5 minutes and explaining this to your children/friends/family tonight at the dinner table. You might even show them this President Ronald Reagan speech atop Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary. In my humble opinion, it is one of President Reagan's finest.
So, on this 74th anniversary, we honor their sacrifice. We respect their service. Let’s make sure we also remember what they fought for and honor their memory by proving ourselves worthy of it.