It was just before 1 a.m. on the east coast, 70 years ago today, when radio networks began interrupting programming to report bulletins coming from the German news agency TransOcean.
On the Mutual Network, an announcer cut into a transcription of Kitty Kallen singing her new song, "In Times Like These," to pass the word that the Allied invasion of Europe may have begun. As with all announcers, he warned that the report was “an unsubstantiated enemy claim.” It was a caution born of sad experience. Three days earlier, the Associated Press had reported the start of the invasion, only to later withdraw the announcement as false.
One of the worries was that Nazi propagandists might be planting false reports in order to lure resistance fighters into the open.
Within an hour of that first unsubstantiated bulletin on June 6, an NBC announcer noted that lights were coming on all over Washington as word spread. He supposed the same was happening in cities and towns nationwide. Before long, Allied forces were confirming the reports; the invasion was on.
It is difficult, from today’s vantage, to feel what Americans on the home front felt in those early morning hours. We cannot fully share their anxieties, their uncertainties, their fears and their hopes. We cannot feel our hearts tug the way parents, wives and children did that day, knowing a son, husband or father might be part of the attempted landing.
We know the outcome. We know how the invasion turned the course of the war and spelled defeat for the Axis. The people on that day didn’t. For most of us, the many who died that day were people well known to our grandparents or great-grandparents. We don’t share the emotional pain of their loss the way an older generation did.
But we do share the fruits of their sacrifice.
Everything that has built the United States into the world’s leading economy and military over the last 70 years; everything that has fueled progress from the landings on the moon to the smartphones in our pockets; everything that gives us the peace of daily routines hinged on their sacrifice that day.
The question we must constantly ask is, what have we done with the gift they gave us?
The survivors of that day, the men who landed and did not die, are now frail and few in number. Many of them are in France today as part of a commemoration that will include dignitaries such as President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II and French President Francois Hallande, as well as thousands of onlookers. It promises to be a poignant scene and an historic one. Many of today’s adults still will be alive for future landmark anniversaries, but most of the veterans who fought that day will be gone.
One of those men, 92-year-old James Krucas of Wisconsin, told the Associated Press, “In 20 years, there will be no veterans around to tell them this was the day that saved the world.”
It will be up to future generations to honor what they did. And while each generation must bear its own sacrifices for freedom, the ability of future generations to avoid having to repeat the horror and slaughter of June 6, 1944, depends on how they remember that day, how they hold fast to liberty and freedom and how they lead the world against future threats.