There was a moment a long time ago when Hell tried to rule the planet.
It was a time of evil, of hate, and some of the vilest men in history.
It was a time of giants, when true legends came forth to stand against tyranny, and by standing, helped saved the world from the most vicious and inhumane effort to poison our existence.
It was also a time of greatness, of simple and common men doing great and wonderous deeds with the courage and righteousness of the blessed.
That time encompassed this day, June 6. That time was June 6, 1944. It was D Day, the Allied Invasion to liberate Europe. Over 125,000 men landed on those beaches, with men from the United States, Great Britain, Canada and France leading the way. Thousands of men were killed and wounded on June 6, 1944, and tens of thousands would die in the next 11 months as the Allied Armies pushed toward Germany and Berlin to rid the world of the pestilence and scourge that was Nazi Germany and the Third Reich.
Today is the 75th anniversary of that historic day, and it is a day we should never forget. It is a day when the common man did uncommon things so that others might live free. I think we owe it to all of them to remember what they did there on that day, as it ultimately led to the total defeat of Nazi Germany and Italy.
Along the way, the names Omaha Beach, Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Carentan, Operation Market Garden, Bastogne, Hurtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge, Remagen, the Ardennes, Buchenwald, Dachau and many other names would enter the pantheon of heroic American valor and conquest. It was a time of great resolve and purpose, and it was a time that our country was united for the common good of all mankind. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, it was our finest hour.
June 6, 1944 was a dreary blustery day all along the Normandy Coast. Of the five invasion beaches, the Americans drew the toughest nut to crack, Omaha Beach. Omaha Beach along the French Coast quickly rises up to 100-foot cliffs that serve as defensive sentinels overlooking the English Channel. The beaches had been pre-registered in by Germany infantry and artillery units, and it was a killing zone. In the span of 12 hours, not only had the brave Army units taken the beach, climbed the hills, and started the march inland to establish the American beachhead, but they had immortalized themselves in history. It was a true tale of a Band of Brothers doing God’s work.
The men who hit the beach that day went with the immortal call to action issued by General Dwight David Eisenhower:
Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
It was that kind of battle, that noble of a cause.
All my life, I grew up hearing about D Day. I was blessed to have met many of the men who fought and served there over the course of my lifetime. They were ordinary men who did extraordinary things in the most evil and deadly cauldron of human history.
They were humble men who never considered themselves heroes. They simply believed they had done their duty and were proud to have saved humanity. They were not looking for laurels or baubles. They had come home and were allowed to live their lives as free men. They had ensured that future generations of Americans would be allowed to do the same.
In 2010, I had to go to see the beaches. I had to see what D Day really looked like on the ground. In June of 2010, I walked the beaches of Operation Overlord. I went to the little villages, I talked to some of the French people who were there and who were still alive. Their stories made me burst with pride and made me prouder than ever of our forefathers who served there.
But the hardest part was walking through the American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer, the former battlefield of Saint Laurent. Row after row the crosses grow, and almost as far as the eye can see on this 172-acre hallowed plot of ground are buried over 9,380 American soldiers who died in the Normandy Campaign. It is one of the most humbling, solemn and emotional places I have ever been. It sits on a beautiful hill overlooking Omaha Beach, and belies the carnage and death that is remembered there.
I was on a tour with elderly citizens from the British Empire, and they wanted to see what the Yankee asked the tour driver to do on our last day in Normandy. We all went to the museum at Colleville-Sur-Mer, then we all took our own private walk through the cemetery.
I was the last person to get on the bus that afternoon. I had talked to numerous veterans who had served on June 6 and with families of those who had come to remember their fallen fathers, uncles, grandparents and brothers. As I gazed over the crosses, tears of sadness, pride and awe streamed down my face. It was tough to get on that bus and retain my composure. I didn’t want to break down in front of the Brits, many of whom had lost their own brothers and fathers in World War I and World War II.
As I gathered myself up, I got on the bus trying to hold back all the emotions that were welling within me. As I stepped into the aisle, all the Brits stood up and clapped and thanked this American for what our ancestors had done. There was not a dry eye on that bus all the way back to our hotel north of Caen. All the way back to England we talked about the war, the men who served, those who had lost loved ones, those who had wounded warriors in their families, and how proud and honored we were to have had those men and to have known them as well.
We were comrades in arms, and I have never been prouder to be an American and a human being as I was on that day, June 6, 2010.
Photo by Terence J. Fitzwater/Gonzales inquirer
Walking through the American Cemetery at Collevill-Sur-Mer was tough as that plot of ground is one of the most humbling, solemn and emotional places I’ve ever been in.