Seventy-five years ago, winds of change breezed through the battalions of 160,000 fresh-faced American soldiers and Allied forces crossing the English Channel to land on the beaches at Normandy, France. Continental Europe had fallen to Axis powers, and the Nazis were knocking at the door of the United Kingdom. Tens of thousands lost their lives in the ensuing battles, but within 15 months of D-Day, which the world marks next week, freedom would prevail, and the bloodiest war in modern history would come to an official close.
Three-quarters of a century have passed since that dramatic turn of events. What does that mean for America today?
For one, it means time is running short to fully comprehend the impact this campaign — and the many before and after — had on the course of the nation. As of 2018, only 496,777 of the 16 million Americans who fought in World War II were still alive. Utah has a mere 3,881 remaining WWII veterans. With the passing of each generation, life-altering events fade to memories, which fade to stories disconnected from time and place.
Museums, memorials and documentaries are integral to preserving the past in a way that educates the future. We challenge all to explore these mediums to understand the motivations that led so many to give the last full measure of devotion.
Even then, nothing compares to the emotion and reverence of listening to the struggles of someone who was there when it happened. Perhaps a better challenge this Memorial Day is to seek out a veteran and just listen. Read accounts of ancestors who fought and died for freedom. Offer kindness to friend who lost a loved one in battle.
Maintaining that reverence for sacrifice on behalf of a greater cause is absolutely necessary to preserving the American spirit that moves the country forward. Should the country neglect its heritage as a city on a hill, a beacon of freedom to the world and a refuge for the tired and poor, drivel will rule the order of business.
Unfortunately, such has become business as usual for much of American politics.
Solemn remembrance offers the antidote. Victory in France would have been impossible if cowardice had taken hold of the forces. Courage, on the other hand, triumphed. Memorial Day serves to remind Americans of their responsibility to come together to do the hard things and to bravely cast aside the fear of standing alone in principle.11 comments on this story
D-Day brought to pass the prophetic vision of Winston Churchill delivered to the House of Commons four years earlier: “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Churchill knew what it would take to win, even while staring defeat in the face as it sat across the channel. Taking courage to stand fast in principle will be a fitting offering to those who served their country such that others would never forget.
Portions of this editorial ran in the Deseret News in 2018.