The masthead at the top of your paper should read June 4, and two days from now, on June 6, we will be observing the 70th anniversary of one of the most important days in the history of the world — D-Day. Ring a bell? Hopefully you have studied it in history, even if you are too young to remember the events. Most of us are too young, in fact, but 70 years ago this Friday, 156,000 American soldiers and her allies launched the greatest amphibious landing in history and began to reclaim Fortress Europe from Adolph Hitler and his Nazi thugs.
The invasion was led by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would later become president, and one of the great duffers of all time. They even named a tree after him at Augusta National. Beaches with names like Sword, Gold, Juno — and Omaha and Utah — ran red with blood — especially Omaha and Utah — where it was American blood. The men who stormed those beaches were told to expect 70 percent casualty rates as soon as the gates of the Higgins boats dropped open. They didn’t miss it by much.
Some men stepped off into deep water and drowned. Some were cut to ribbons by German machine guns before they even hit the water. Others were dismembered by mines. But some of them made it to shore. They were pinned down by rocket launchers and machine gun fire, but little by little, they inched their way across the beaches. Rangers scaled the cliffs at Point du Hoc, right into the face of the Germans. Slowly the huge force that established a beachhead started making their way toward the paratroopers who had dropped into Germany the night before. It was a slow go. The fight for freedom usually is.
By Aug. 25, they had liberated Paris. By March 1945, General Patton was urinating in the Rhine River. Eleven months after D-Day Hitler was dead at his own hand and Germany had surrendered unconditionally.
Monday I was in Normandy. I saw Gold Beach. Members of my party stood on Omaha Beach. Some even waded into the water. I looked up at the cliffs of Point du Hoc and marveled that any human could have done what the Rangers did on that day. I stood in the American cemetery and gazed upon row upon row upon row of white crosses — and the occasional Star of David — and read the names on many of them. Some said “Known but to God alone.” And I was so thankful, I was so thankful. I am not ashamed to admit that tears rolled freely down my face as I realized what my father’s generation handed over to us. They flowed more profusely when I realized what my generation is handing over to the next.
They were getting ready for a big to-do in Normandy this weekend. Security helicopters were flying overhead. A lady in the gift shop warned me not to say anything inflammatory on my cell phone because, according to her, calls are being monitored.
Re-enactors were everywhere, in their GI uniforms, riding around in their vintage jeeps and half-tracks. I felt like I was on the set of a World War II movie, only the men who fought and died on those beaches weren’t making a movie. What they did was real, and now I appreciate it more than I ever have before — and I have always appreciated it before.
In the museum I noticed a couple of items. One was a speech that Gen. Eisenhower shared with the troops on the eve of the invasion. Another was a copy of a prayer President Roosevelt prayed with the nation, over the radio — once the battle was under way. He said, in part:
“And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.”
I wish the president of the United States would pray today that our Republic, our religion and our civilization would be preserved.
I wish somebody would.
“Here’s to the boys of Point du Hoc”—and all the other horrible places that freedom has been purchased with the blood of America’s sons and daughters. Thank you.