Few Events in Human History Call Out to Us with Such Clarity as What is Important
The 70th anniversary of D Day is almost upon us. The celebration that occurs every five years will take place this Thursday in France. I cringe at what Donald Trump may do or fail to do at this most sacred of human consecrations. I take comfort knowing the examples of D Day will long outlive this human aberration in our history.
D Day has a special meaning for me. I was the coordinator for airborne operations at the 40th anniversary of D Day. That put me in Normandy for several days of preparation. During this time, I got to know the people of Normandy as few Americans ever could. I spent time with veterans and their families. Many were coming back for the first and only time to share as best they could all this with their loved ones.
I helped veterans and French families talk through two languages and 40 years of memory. I had the honor of one-on-one conversations with storied leaders of that time. I met Lighting Joe Collins and Gentlemen Jim Gavin. Extraordinary generals by any standard.
I will keep my observations brief today, because I want you to read someone else’s reflections. Rachel Donadio has written a short but beautiful piece in the Atlantic about D Day and Omaha beach. Everyone should read it. I am providing a link below. Do yourself a favor and click on the link.
A few short notes to set the scene to frame thinking about D Day:
– D Day is a singular event in human history. Its scope, scale, and stakes were almost beyond measure. Good planning, tough training, raw courage, and dedication made the history we now enjoy. No small amount of luck was also involved, on many levels.
– As large and complex as this was, the orders were models of clarity and brevity. As a young officer candidate, I read microfiche copies of many of the original documents. They remain awe inspiring.
– I may be prejudiced, but to me, the story of the paratroopers is the most powerful of D Day. Their mission was clear, even if the execution would necessarily be pure chaos. They were to jump into the midst of the enemy in the dead of night, hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded, before the main force invasion.
They were to spread destruction and chaos all around them. They were to keep German reinforcements from reaching the beaches. They were to stay alive until allied forces coming over the shore could link up with them. Their history inspired me to become a paratrooper – in a life or death fight, these are the folks you want around you. I had the great honor of serving in both the legendary airborne divisions, the 101stand the 82nd. Remarkable units still, keenly aware of the legacy they carry.
– Many Americans visit the US Cemetery at Omaha Beach. It is on land given by the French. The cemetary is lovingly maintained by an organization few Americans even know, the American Battle Monuments Commission. They run such cemeteries all around the world. I cannot count the number of times I saw them helping older, disabled veterans find an old comrade’s grave with only the barest hint of who that fallen soldier was. Every time they did this, it was as though helping this veteran was their only mission that day. They are an amazing group that deserves more praise and recognition. We owe them much.
– Few Americans visit the German cemetery just down the road from Omaha Beach, also on land donated by the French. It is a very different place, but no less reverential and well visited by Germans and others. If you are in that part of France, make the visit.
– The French, especially those in Normandy, do not forget. They remember their liberators with fondness and gratitude. They show it in countless gestures, large and small, to this day. The people of Normandy are a special breed. Most are Vikings by heritage. They are tough, resilient, and respectful of those who live their values. One of these days I owe you a blog series or some essays on their remarkable stories.
Enough from me. Read the Atlantic article. Think this week about what that kind of dedication and service to something greater looks like up close and large scale. Click on this link:
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