Could we, would we, today measure up to the allied forces on D-Day?

June 7, 2009

I wanted to write something about D-Day and on the actual 65th anniversary of that day, but according to my computer time I have missed that (D-Day was on June 6, 1944, and even though I have written this on the evening of June 6, 2009, my time, the blog dateline reads June 7).

At 59, don’t know anyone personally who took part. I do have a late uncle who flew missions over Germany in a fighter plane. I’ve seen the movies, to include “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan”, and have seen actual documentary footage taken and have read several accounts, to include eyewitness descriptions. I think a local D-Day veteran quoted in my local newspaper today probably said it best when he related something to the effect he watched a little of the movies but they didn’t keep his interest up. I’m sure no one could really describe or depict such an event in such a way as to let those who were not there feel as they had been. And from what I have gathered through the years veterans of actual combat often are less inclined to talk about it than those who were only near it or even assigned to a desk somewhere.

Sadly, we may have a couple generations or more who only are vaguely aware of what D-Day was. I actually talked to one adult a few years ago who did not know who the U.S. fought in World War II. It shouldn’t be surprising to me, though. When I went to high school in the 1960s we barely touched upon that aspect of history (maybe it was still a little too new yet). But I hate to think that people would not know such a thing or would have to depend upon the movies.

And I think there has been a lot of talk in recent years about such a thing as the “Greatest Generation”, as if there was that moment in time that we (meaning the we of the past) had it right, that we all did our duty, and that it was worth it.

I’m not sure I buy that. But I do think that looking back there must have been more concern to do things right and for the interests of a nation and there must have been more willingness for self-sacrifice or acceptance of it anyway.

I think I am correct in saying that as a nation we did not really make our mark militarily on the international scene to any great extent until the Spanish-American War (and I’m not forgetting the shores of Tripoli and such). But then, and again in World War I (a dubious choice for the U.S. to fight in by some accounts), there were so many willing young men seeking adventure. And that was even the case in World War II, especially right after Pearl Harbor was bombed, I think. Of course a lot of young men were drafted too and had no choice (and it was not all perfect or all glory – we had desertions; we even executed one poor soldier, Edward Slovik, for desertion).

And meaning no disrespect to those who served or serve in combat, but since World War II, we as a nation have had a more difficult time in dealing with war and convincing ourselves and those who actually face the bullets that we are doing the right thing in the right way and that it is all really worth it.

Unless you want to rewrite history and say everything would have somehow worked out had we stayed out and let Gen. Tojo in Japan and Adolf Hitler in Germany divide up the world under their iron fists, I think you have to conclude that everyone of us living today benefitted greatly from those who sacrificed in World War II. Make no mistake, our enemies in World War II wanted to physically divide the world between them.

With the help of our allies in the free world, the U.S. stopped the evil of the time, but did not take territory in return.

And while things have not been seen as so cut and dry since then, essentially the U.S. has continued in that mode, and I can see that the whole world looks to us as the beacon of freedom and all that is right and is disappointed when it seems we do not live up to that role or we falter in it.

But we press on, but are only able to do it through the same sacrifice, on a smaller scale but just as dear, as was shown on that day 65 years ago on the shores of France.

In the largest amphibious landing ever, some 160,000 troops stormed the beaches of Normandy and the allies suffered an estimated 10,000 casualties that day, June 6, 1944, on those beaches, to include some 1,465 dead Americans.

If nothing else, we the beneficiaries have to look inward at ourselves and ask: could we, would we do that?

Knowing that the forces of evil are still active, our continued survival will depend upon the answer.