Dr. Bill Atwood

The Greatest Generation

“Many men came here as soldiers

Many men will pass this way

Many men will count the hours

As they live the longest day

Many men are tired and weary

Many men are here to stay

Many men won't see the sunset

When it ends the longest day” -Paul Anka

Walter had to be a scared young man as he rode in the boat toward the shore. He was 18 or 19 at the time and he was just hoping to live through the 6th of June. That day would be the last days for tens of thousands of brave soldiers who were following orders from the top brass. Take the beaches. Destroy the enemy’s positions and secure the area. Walter was part of the greatest armada the world had ever or would ever see. Walter and his buddies knew they were a part of something so big they really could not imagine it. Walter would do his duty that day and would receive this nation‘s Silver Star for his brave actions. He survived the war and became a public school educator for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was my high school counselor. His thick Austrian accent was mocked by many kids who even deemed him to be a Nazi because he sounded German. An American D-Day hero called a Nazi by school students and he just shrugged it off. He died a few years ago in his 90’s.

Bud was a poor kid from Madera who was ordered to jump out of an airplane over Weems, France and to engage the enemy there. He shared with my students in 1994 on the 50th anniversary of his jumped just how scared he was, but he had orders to follow. Bud did his duty and then came home after helping to defeat the Axis Powers and made Madera his home until he died a few years ago.

This Tuesday we mark the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion that was the beginning of the end of the Third Reich. The German generals all knew that if the Allies got the beachhead then their days were numbered because the juggernaut of the Allies would crush the Nazis and fascist forces. By April of 1945 the war in Europe would be over and the boys would be coming home.

On that day, which is known as The Longest Day, 160,000 allied troops, half of which were American, participated in the battle. They were supported by 13,000 aircraft and 5,000 ships. Of the 160,000 that joined with Walter and Bud that day 10,000 did not live to see the 7th of June. 6,603 of those guys were Americans. 6,603 families were given the awful news that they were now Gold Star Families. The British Empire lost 2,700 loyal subjects of the crown and our Canadian neighbors had 946 families devastated as well.

The cemeteries in France and all across Europe show the world the sacrifice that free people are willing to make for the preservation of liberty. The Bible (KJV) tells us in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

When I consider the word sacrifice a couple of poignant images come to mind. Jesus on the Cross at Calvary for my sins and an American veteran going into battle for my freedom. Those are the two willing to die for me, and for you.

The soldiers died to preserve what we have. A great standard of living, rule of law, the political process, debates freedom of speech and our other Constitutional rights. We have often heard that the sea off the coast of Normandy ran red that day. Like the blood at Calvary, the blood at Normandy follows what John said about the meaning of greater love.

The tides have washed away the blood and the beaches have returned to a natural color but the acts of courage evident that day as well as the other days of the war will be remembered forever.

The Walters and Buds and the unnamed others would simply tell you that they were only following orders and they only did what they were told to do. They saved the world from the tyranny of the Third Reich, came home and built the greatest economy the world had ever known, did not brag about their actions, and did not consider themselves to be heroes.

“The longest day, the longest day

This will be the longest day

Filled with hopes and filled with fears

Filled with blood and sweat and tears

Many men, the mighty thousands

Many men to victory

Marching on, right into battle

In the longest day in history”-Paul Anka

Little wonder why they are referred to as “The Greatest Generation.”