They’re old men who once — in the prime of their youth — stormed out of boats into too-deep water and onto a beach. They were greeted with merciless fire from an enemy force determined to keep what it had captured.
The young men fought their way across the beach. Their triumph was far from secured when they were able to maintain their hold on the small strip of land they had just touched.
They kept fighting. And fighting some more. They hailed from nations around the world. They were Americans, Brits, Canadians, French, Poles, Dutch, Danes, Greeks, Australians and New Zealanders.
Seventy-five years ago they sought to open a new front in the war in Europe. They landed in Normandy, France on a mission labeled Operation Overlord, aka D-Day.
These old men now are among a diminishing group of heroes who fought to save the world from Nazi tyranny. They would succeed eventually. The Third Reich that was supposed to last a thousand years crumbled under the might of the forces that fought their way into Germany from that beach in Normandy and from the east, where the Soviet Red Army was exacting its own brutal vengeance against the Nazis.
Today we honor the young men who answered their nations’ call. Dignitaries will offer high-minded salutes to those young men. A few of those young men will be there among the dignitaries. They have aged. They’re now well into their 90s, meaning that most of those who are still with us today likely won’t be around for the next landmark commemoration of the D-Day landing.
One day all those young men will no longer be among us. I have sought in recent years to shake the hand of World War II veterans when I see them wearing those ballcaps identifying them as members of the Greatest Generation. I want to thank them for saving the world from the monsters who sought to subject us all to their oppression.
But here’s the deal: Those veterans who saved the world from the tyrants quite often don’t advertise their heroism. They fought hard, earned the victory and then returned home to resume their lives. Their heroics? “We just did our duty,” they might say.
D-Day was a seminal event in world history. Those who are the products of those men need to understand fully what they did when they stormed ashore in the beach in France. Indeed, all of us who came into this world after that worldwide war should honor their forebears’ effort to save the world.
That’s what I want to do at this moment . . . and always.