The Lessons and Legacy of D-Day

This week, we will celebrate the daring, courage and sacrifice of 73,000 young Americans who hit the beaches of Normandy, Omaha and Utah -- on June 6, 1944, 75 years ago.  Those who lived to come home are now in their 90s.  While we have this extraordinary generation till among us, this is the year, month, and day to reach out and thank them.  It is also a moment to think about what the day means for us.

The assault, named “Operation Overlord,” was epic – enormous in size, significance, and tragic cost.  On the beaches of Normandy France, in a moment of profound resolve, faith, military commitment, and patriotism, which boils down to love of country, town, family, and freedom – these boys from across America risked all for us. 

Had they not done so, the freedoms and prosperity we take as a birthright daily would not be ours; if by some stretch America had survived and endured at all, we would be an island in an ocean of unthinkable darkness. 

These boys knew that the fight was all or nothing, win or freedom perishes, prevail against the evil that had taken Europe, or allow something to stand that could not.  So they gave it their all. 

That invasion – which the Nazis thought they could halt on the beach – is what made freeing Europe possible.  But it did not come without enormous human cost – both in those lost on that day and in the memories and horrors experienced, which lasted a lifetime for those who were there.

On Omaha, after that one epic day, nearly 1,500 American boys lay dead, in excess of 3,000 were seriously wounded, another 2,000 forever missing and 26 captured.  The mayhem was horrific, but it changed everything.  From that moment forward, the Germans were in retreat. 

The Nazi war machine would try again, in a final death throe known as Battle of the Bulge, but the Normandy invasion turned the page, put the power of a moral alliance that would not quit in the heart of France, and evil in retreat -- until the Allied armies crushed it.  All that arguably began 75 years ago this week.

Trying to understand the impact of this event, photographs help.  One that I catches me off guard each time is not from the war zone, but from New York City itself.  It is the highly human reactions, tension on faces, worry in hearts you can almost hear beating hard, knowing what is happening as they look up at a ribbon of news above them in Times Square. 

By the time New Yorkers awoke to read the news, tens of thousands of boys were confronting evil head on, bravely running into a hail of mortars, artillery, and machine-gun fire at Normandy, climbing 200-foot sheer cliffs, and driving back those who were sworn to stop them. 

On that day, the Daily News announced “Invasion Begins,” and the New York Times delivered words from Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight Eisenhower:  “Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.”

From three-quarters of a century on, it is hard to imagine, but there was nothing inevitable about the D-Day victory, or eventual success in Europe or the Pacific.  Only heart, soul, undying courage and unthinkable resolve to prevail – made it happen.

And that is what we must remember on this 75-year anniversary of that epic day. We must look back with the sort of appreciation that brings a good heart to silence, in sheer awe of what those boys did for us. 

We must look forward with the resolve in our hearts to preserve, protect, and deliver forward the freedom they have given us.  We owe that to them, and more than that.

This week, we will celebrate the daring, courage and sacrifice of 73,000 young Americans who hit the beaches of Normandy, Omaha and Utah -- on June 6, 1944, 75 years ago.  Those who lived to come home are now in their 90s.  While we have this extraordinary generation till among us, this is the year, month, and day to reach out and thank them.  It is also a moment to think about what the day means for us.

The assault, named “Operation Overlord,” was epic – enormous in size, significance, and tragic cost.  On the beaches of Normandy France, in a moment of profound resolve, faith, military commitment, and patriotism, which boils down to love of country, town, family, and freedom – these boys from across America risked all for us. 

Had they not done so, the freedoms and prosperity we take as a birthright daily would not be ours; if by some stretch America had survived and endured at all, we would be an island in an ocean of unthinkable darkness. 

These boys knew that the fight was all or nothing, win or freedom perishes, prevail against the evil that had taken Europe, or allow something to stand that could not.  So they gave it their all. 

That invasion – which the Nazis thought they could halt on the beach – is what made freeing Europe possible.  But it did not come without enormous human cost – both in those lost on that day and in the memories and horrors experienced, which lasted a lifetime for those who were there.

On Omaha, after that one epic day, nearly 1,500 American boys lay dead, in excess of 3,000 were seriously wounded, another 2,000 forever missing and 26 captured.  The mayhem was horrific, but it changed everything.  From that moment forward, the Germans were in retreat. 

The Nazi war machine would try again, in a final death throe known as Battle of the Bulge, but the Normandy invasion turned the page, put the power of a moral alliance that would not quit in the heart of France, and evil in retreat -- until the Allied armies crushed it.  All that arguably began 75 years ago this week.

Trying to understand the impact of this event, photographs help.  One that I catches me off guard each time is not from the war zone, but from New York City itself.  It is the highly human reactions, tension on faces, worry in hearts you can almost hear beating hard, knowing what is happening as they look up at a ribbon of news above them in Times Square. 

By the time New Yorkers awoke to read the news, tens of thousands of boys were confronting evil head on, bravely running into a hail of mortars, artillery, and machine-gun fire at Normandy, climbing 200-foot sheer cliffs, and driving back those who were sworn to stop them. 

On that day, the Daily News announced “Invasion Begins,” and the New York Times delivered words from Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight Eisenhower:  “Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.”

From three-quarters of a century on, it is hard to imagine, but there was nothing inevitable about the D-Day victory, or eventual success in Europe or the Pacific.  Only heart, soul, undying courage and unthinkable resolve to prevail – made it happen.

And that is what we must remember on this 75-year anniversary of that epic day. We must look back with the sort of appreciation that brings a good heart to silence, in sheer awe of what those boys did for us. 

We must look forward with the resolve in our hearts to preserve, protect, and deliver forward the freedom they have given us.  We owe that to them, and more than that.