“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who scaled the cliffs.”
Ronald Reagan uttered those words in front of the Ranger Memorial at Pointe du Hoc, on Omaha Beach, on the 40th anniversary of D-day. Tuesday I had the privilege of standing at that spot and once again marveling at the bravery and fortitude of the magnificent men that stormed that beach, climbed those cliffs and saved the world. It is hard to believe that almost 35 years has passed since President Reagan uttered those words and offered the thanks of a grateful nation to the Greatest Generation.
Now the 75th anniversary of D-Day is upon us. Seventy-five years since those 20-something-year-olds did the impossible without stopping to consider that what they were being asked to do was actually impossible. They just did it.
I got to sit down with a 94-year-old veteran at a museum this week. He told me, “It was us or them on D-Day.”
He went on to relate that as a 19-year-old, he was not really concerned with any motivation when his Higgins Boat hit the beach except to take the next step, breathe the next breath, trying his best to advance and take care of his buddies.
“I lost a lot of buddies that day,” he told me.
He’s lost a lot more since. Optimistic sources estimate that fewer than 3,000 of those in the first wave at Normandy are still alive, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, and we are losing our World War II veterans at the rate of about 325 a day, according to the most recent estimates. We need to remember them and honor them and talk to them — or better yet — listen to them, while we still have the opportunity.
It is hard to understand what those who answered the call to defeat evil during the Second World War were asked to do. On Monday we honor all those who gave their lives in all our nation’s wars, and to borrow a phrase from the 16th president of the United States, “it is fitting and proper that we should do so.”
We have only one life, and to give it for one’s country is the Supreme Sacrifice. So many of our men gave theirs on D-Day and the days to follow. As President Reagan said, “They climbed over those walls and saved a continent.”
They saved the world. They gave us a precious gift. I fear every day that we haven’t held the torch of freedom they handed us high enough. I pray every night that we will find, again to quote Lincoln, “a new birth of freedom,” and that, “these honored dead shall not have died in vain.”
After our group left Pointe du Hoc and Omaha and Utah Beaches, we visited another spot. We visited the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Sur-Mer means “by the sea.” More than 9,000 of our nation’s finest are buried near where they fell, on June 6 and in the following battle for Normandy. It is a magnificent, breathtaking and humbling experience to walk among the crosses and Stars of David that are laid out, row by row, in perfect symmetry, on an exquisitely manicured lawn. It is ironic that they lie in honored rest in such a tranquil setting so close to where so much carnage and violence took place.
I thank God for each of them.
I don’t know God’s place in the history of nations. I can’t explain God. I try to live my life by faith and not my own understanding. I don’t know why some lived and others died. But I believe that He is on the side of the right and the just, and that our cause during the liberation of Fortress Europe was right and just. Our president believed it, too. He broadcast the following to the nation.
“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, 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. Lead them straight and true; Give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness to their faith ... ”
I still believe in God and know that God once said, through Solomon, who the Bible tells us was the wisest man to ever live, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven. I will forgive their sins. I will heal their land.”
Our heroes have given us a marvelous gift. Our land needs healing today. I think we could honor those heroes best by doing just that.