D-Day Observance Vital for the Future

In one old black-and-white newsreel, men wearing helmets and carrying rifles advance from the sea across a beach. They are bent forward slightly, as if walking into the teeth of a storm. Suddenly, one goes limp and drops to the sand. Then another falls.

Now, during an era of video “reporting” in which the scenes have been chosen to avoid giving offense or causing any sort of anguish, it seems difficult to understand what we are seeing.

Men are dying before our very eyes.

Filmed 70 years ago today, the footage shows a tiny part of what happened on June 6, 1944 during the allied invasion of France – D-Day.

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, for most Americans today to understand what life and the world were like then, during World War II. About two-thirds of the U.S. population was born after 1970, after all.

Few of those who served in uniform then remain to remind us of a time when evil ran rampant and a truly great generation shed oceans of blood to bring the madness to an end. Of the 16.1 million Americans who served in the military during the war, only slightly more than a million are among us today.

Our armed forces today require only about 1 percent of the nation’s population. Then, one in eight Americans served. More than 405,000 of them died.

They did so on Omaha and Utah beaches during the D-Day landings, in the skies miles above the earth, on and under the sea and on hundreds of other battlefields and skirmish sites. They laid down their lives as landing-craft ramps dropped and German or Japanese bullets slammed into them. They died as their aircraft fell flaming from the sky. They perished in agony in the Pacific Ocean after their ships had been sunk. They breathed their last after captors they expected would treat them honorably plunged bayonets into their chests.

Many veterans of World War II prefer not to talk much about what they endured for us. Especially in the context of the lives we have led, we could never understand or, perhaps, even believe, they feel.

That, of course, is precisely why it is vital for us to continue commemorating D-Day and other historic events. That also is why it is important for military veterans to talk to us – and for us to ask them to do so.

Observances of the 70th anniversary of D-Day recognize the importance of the invasion. They honor not just those who died in it, but their comrades-in-arms who served and too often perished all over the globe during World War II.

And they recognize a generational patriotism and courage we hope will never be needed again – but which we pray will come forth if our nation ever again faces another cataclysmic conflict. Today’s observance, then, is only partly about the past. It is about the future, too.