As we were so importantly reminded yesterday, 69 years ago American Armed Forces were engaged in a bold attack against the Germans, invading France at Normandy. Lasting about two months, D-Day was one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history with over 156,000 American, Canadian and British (minimal to none French) troops participating. The beginning of the end of the European theater of World War ll, these troops liberated Western Europe from Nazi Germany.
Most of the surviving soldiers went home to continue--or rebuild--their lives and countries. But historical memory is short; for many years after World War ll, D-Day was once prominently noted; not so much this year. And of course time takes its toll; the few surviving veterans are in their late, late 80s and more.
Of the 115 men who have served as senators over the years who fought in World War ll, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), the last remaining one, died the day before this year's D-Day anniversary at 89. Writing in Politico, James E. Hohmann noted
The war shaped many of the most famous senators from the past half-century, including decades of presidential candidates from John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon to Barry Goldwater, Bob Dole, George McGovern, Edmund Muskie and even Strom Thurmond. Others, from Joe McCarthy to Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Frank Church, credited World War II with shaping their worldview.
Former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who served in World War II and Korea, "choked up a little bit" when he heard on the radio Monday morning that Lautenberg died. He called it "a turning point."
"The linkage of World War II was a material factor in our being able to sit down and find the common ground on things we worked on," said Warner, proudly recounting how the two teamed up to pass a post-Sept. 11 GI Bill in 2009.
Only two World War II vets remain in the House: Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). Dingell will become the longest-serving member of Congress in American history on Friday.
"It's a passing of the torch," said Dingell. "The veterans of these more recent wars will bring their own experiences, many of which will coincide with the guys who went off to World War II with me."
A handful of still-living members of the brotherhood reflected Monday on how WWII shaped their time in Congress.
Former Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), a Marine in World War II, said he remembers the horror of the war giving senators "hesitancy" about troop commitments.
Across the country the surviving veterans also reflected.
"We made a difference," said Gabaree, 88, who landed at Omaha Beach with the 5th Ranger Battalion, part of an invasion force of 160,000 American, British and Canadian troops who established a foothold in Nazi-occupied western Europe.
"There is a lot of cynicism around today. I hope people remember that there were people like me and all the Rangers that I worked with, those of us who really believed in democracy. I didn't have any education. America was good to me," Gabaree said. "I hope people remember there were many men who sacrificed their lives and youths. We were young when we went over there, but we came back old men. It was a supreme sacrifice. I hope people remember, there were some of us willing to die for democracy, because we believed in it."
Many of us remember. And thank you.
And for those who are gone, may memories of them be a blessing.