WASHINGTON: On June 6, 1944 waves of Allied soldiers and equipment landed upon the shores of Normandy, France. A massive operation lasting more than two months, eventually leading to the defeat of Nazi Germany. The battle began when about 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified coast. (D-Day: 17 stunning photos from 1944 show how hard the Normandy invasion really was)
The invasion was the largest amphibious military assault in history.
In the Spring of 1984, President Ronald Reagan stood on a craggy piece of land jutting into the English Channel where, 40 years before, the invasion took place.
He told his audience, which included many surviving veterans of that invasion:
“Forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and…was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon.”
Reagan declared that,
“Free nations had fallen. Jews cried out in the camps. Millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved and the world cried out for its rescue to begin…Behind me, is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of those cliffs. And before me, are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”
Reagan conclusion was as if speaking to contemporary Americans:
“Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideas for which they lived and died.”
More than 4,000 Allied troops were killed, 6,000 were wounded on D-Day.
By late August, all of northern France had been liberated and by the following Spring, the Germans had been defeated.
President Trump drew on one of the founding documents of the American narrative when, at anniversary celebrations in Portsmouth, England, he read from President Franklin D, Roosevelt’s celebrated D-Day prayer for soldiers who
“this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”
Hopefully, these words are sincere. For seventy-five years, as a result of American leadership, America has been at the forefront of the economies of both our allies and former foes. Europe has been free and prosperous. Through the NATO alliance, Communism was defeated. The creation of the European Union has brought Europe together.
Pierre Vincent, a former French ambassador to the U.S., said the isolationist rhetoric coming from the White House does not accurately reflect the status of the transatlantic relationship enshrined in Normandy.
“Despite the sometimes spectacular declarations, the foundations of this relationship remain solid. There is a reality of cooperation and transatlantic relations that remain very strong.”
Today’s world has many challenges from authoritarian regimes in Russia, China and elsewhere. Let us hope that President Trump will reflect upon the real lessons to be learned from this 75th anniversary of D-Day.
I still remember the end of World War ll, marching as a small child in a parade at a town near the beach where we had a summer house. I have pictures of myself at three years old, in a soldier suit, with my uncles, who were in real uniform. World War ll led to peace and prosperity. We understood the evils of nationalism, aggression and religious bigotry. It would be too bad if we forgot those lessons.
Commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day is a way to make sure we don’t.