Yesterday was D-Day. It was the 70th Anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Normandy. I went to my second class on that subject taught by a career Army Colonel and military historian. I couldn’t take notes fast enough. I desperately wanted to know this story because as an American, it is my story too. It was fascinating; awe inspiring, and heartbreaking all at the same time. The deeds of those young soldiers, who put their lives on hold to spend the early years of their manhood securing the freedom of the world, defy comprehension. The indomitable spirit of bravery and sense of mission for the greater good lived in all of them. They truly were the Greatest Generation. I had an uncle who was there on D-Day and I never even knew it until after he passed away. There were many families who later found such evidence of bravery and sacrifice of their loved ones tucked away in old chests with their stories left untold. They were humble heroes never, for once, believing that it was in any way about them.
The Colonel gave us a mixture of the overall mission, trivia, and the personal stories of individuals that factored into this historical feat, sometimes with a catch of emotion in his well trained voice. The unbridled fervor of it all is still so palpable. It is in those stories that I find my connection to the realities. Each and every one of these men were essential to the mission, as hard as that may have been for those left behind. There were those who died quickly, before it ever began. There were those who were captured early and underwent horrific experiences, and there were those who risked it all and achieved their mission. All of them are forever worthy of our undying gratitude and respect. There are very few soldiers left from that infamous day, but their sacrifice lives on in all of us and we owe it to them to keep their story alive.
General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was the Commander of the Allied Forces. He had critical decisions to make. He had the advantages of science, technology, and military intelligence at his disposal, but a leader must sometimes just go with sheer gut instinct. There were hundreds of critical puzzle pieces that would have to fall neatly into place for success. The night before the invasion, he penned his letter to the world, in case of failure, taking full responsibility for it all. He was a leader in the truest sense of the word. Ike would later be elected President of the United States and yet, his final wishes were to be buried in his uniform with the medals of the Allied invasion pinned to his chest. He said that was his greatest accomplishment.
I am told that every American owes it to themselves to go and pay homage to this place. In October, Steve and I will be going to Normandy to the beaches “where history held its breath” and then to the American Cemetery nearby. I think this place will instill in me a sense of citizenship like no other. I know that my gratitude will only wade into the shallow end of very deep waters of this monumental debt. However, it will be an honor to pay my respects to a rare breed of men who believed in something so much greater than themselves, and who believed that what they did would have lasting implications on the generations who came behind. I am one of those generations to say that they were right , “but also perhaps a bit saddened by a sense that those interred in this magnificent setting died in defense of a nation far worthier of their sacrifices than the one we live in today.” ~ James C. Cobb.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” ~ John 15:13