Today marks the 69th anniversary of the event known as D-Day. June 6, 1944, will be remembered as long as there lives even one free person on the planet. That was the beginning of the end of Hitler's reign of terror on Europe and the rest of the globe. The Nazi's knew if the allied forces got a foothold in France their days were numbered. The war in Europe would end during April of 1945.
The brave soldiers who landed that day did not just save the day -- It wasn't just a battle -- It was the day that they saved the world. Today there will be little mention of it. Hopefully, next year, the 70th anniversary the national media will address it for its importance.
If a young man of 18 had been engaged in that horrific invasion he would now be 87. Most of those who fought for liberty on the shores of Normandy have died from various causes. Many still are alive but they are elderly and few make it to their 90s. We need to show our appreciation while they are still with us. The men I have had the pleasure of knowing who fought there that day have gone home to be with the Lord. I would love to have a resident of this area contact me so that I could have him or her discuss that day with my students next year. Bud Edwards from Madera talked to my students on the 50th anniversary of his jump into Weems, France as a paratrooper. Here he was, an average guy, who was a real hero who, like all the rest, said, "We were just doing our job."
"Just doing our job" doesn't quite cut it for me. They faced more than 125,000 Nazi's who were trying their best to ensure they did not make it onto the beach. They faced bullets, bombs, bayonets, grenades, flamethrowers, tanks, air attacks, and hand to hand combat to begin the liberation of France.
They waded through the blood red water bumping into the floating bodies of their fallen comrades in arms, they crawled onto the beaches covered in the blood of Allied soldiers, and crawled up toward the cliffs. 10,000 soldiers who arrived that morning were dead that evening.
Why did they do it? They did it for one simple reason -- Freedom for you and me. They died eight years before I was born but their gift to me was that little Billy Atwood did not grow up speaking German or living under the rule of Hitler. Little Billy did not ever have to utter the phrase, "Seig Heil" because of those brave soldiers. Little Billy and his friends got the opportunity to lives as Americans. What a gift.
During the final few minutes of the movie, "Saving Private Ryan" the character portrayed by Tom Hanks sitting up mortally wounded looks at Private Ryan and, recounting the number of men who died saving Ryan, tells Ryan, "Earn this." The film then shows the now elderly Ryan leaning over the grave of that sergeant portrayed by Hanks and asks his wife, "Am I a good man? Did I live a good life?" Ryan was wondering if he had earned the gift that those who sacrificed for him had bestowed upon him.
I wonder about that from time to time. Was the sacrifice made during what is known as, "The Longest Day" wasted on me? I have taken advantage of the American dream. I have been able to avail myself of the educational system, I vote in every election, I live as a law-abiding citizen, and I reap the benefits of living in a nation with God-given rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Every chance I get I thank a veteran for my freedom. I would like to think that those who sacrificed for people like me would not be disappointed and think I squandered their gift to me.
I can only imagine what that beach looked like and the smells that must have made the experience even worse. Losing one friend is hard to accept and losing many with no time to grieve is a concept with which I have never had to deal. Those folks on that day 25,202 days ago changed the course of history and each of our lives as well.
Their blood and their sacrifice should never be taken for granted. This American will never forget to say thank you.
God bless them all.