Honoring the sacrifices of D-Day veterans

Today – June 6, 2024 – is the 80th anniversary of D-Day – the Allied landing in Europe to liberate the continent from Hitler and Nazism. Every June 6, I pause to think about those who fought and the many who died on the beaches of Normandy and during the campaign that followed, and I always experience a deep sense of gratitude. 

As an amateur student of history, I am fascinated by the scope, scale, and complexity of the operation – “Operation Overlord” – which Winston Churchill called “undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place.” As an American who has the privilege of living in a democratic society, I am moved by the heroism of my fellow citizens who (along with allied soldiers) stormed the Normandy beaches under withering machine gun fire, jumped out of planes with antiaircraft shells bursting all around them, and scaled sheer cliffs to neutralize artillery. (The “Day of Days” episode of the TV series Band of Brothers recreates the chaotic and deadly paratrooper drops of the 101st Airborne; the opening scene of the Stephen Speilberg movie Saving Private Ryan is a harrowing depiction of the beach landings.) War is certainly hell.

Today, at Colleville-sur-Mer, President Biden addressed D-Day veterans at the American military cemetery, and French President Macron awarded several veterans of the Legion of Honor. It was especially poignant because this is certainly the last decennial D-Day event at which an American president who was alive during the invasion will speak, and perhaps the last at which any veterans of the invasion will be present. (Anyone who was 18 years old in 1944 is 98 years old today.) Hereafter, it will be incumbent upon all of us to carry forward an understanding of and appreciation for what they accomplished.

I mostly avoid politics on this blog, but we are living in perilous times, and a critically important election is looming, so I am going to say this: the blood that these soldiers shed for our democracy is sacred, and it would be a tragedy and a travesty if Americans use their freedom in November to willingly return to office a President who has attacked our democracy and has defamed the very heroes who fought and died to defend it – and who, if elected, has vowed to do more of the same.

June 6 and January 6 are antipodal dates; they stand opposite each other on the calendar, separated by six months. Likewise, the men who participated in liberation on June 6, 1944, are opposite in character and spirit from those who incited and participated in insurrection on January 6, 2021. In whose spirit will our country move forward? The heroes or the heretics?

Anyone willing to jeopardize the foundations of democracy and risk authoritarianism on American soil in return for a tax cut or a Supreme Court appointment or some other temporary gain is ignorant of the fragility of a democracy and unworthy of living in one. 

I am no great admirer of President Reagan, but he was right when he said:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.

Categorised as: Current events, News and Views, soapbox

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