On June 6, 1944, the foundation of democracy would be established through a demanding challenge. Allied forces under the overall command of American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, landed on the beaches of what German dictator Adolph Hitler described as “Fortress Europe.”
Paratroopers and glider-borne infantry first touched French soil in Normandy during the early hours of the morning on the eastern and western flanks of the invasion. At sunrise, a huge wave of ships spewed fighting men onto five beaches across a 50-mile front of the Normandy coastline.
By the day’s end, 156,000 troops had landed and a tentative beachhead established. A door in Hitler’s Atlantic Wall had been kicked open, and would only be strengthened during the coming months -- until Hitler’s army surrendered.
Forty years later, President Ronald Reagan knew exactly what was at stake. During a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day, it was Reagan who described their motivation.
“The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.”
Why? Allied invaders constituted a liberating force, not a conquering one. The plan was always to allow France and other Axis-held lands to return to their former glory in a post-World War II universe that would require unimaginable economic and logistical obstacles to hurdle.
“When the war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn,” Reagan said in his remarks. “Above all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here.
“They rebuilt a new Europe together. There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall Plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall Plan led to the Atlantic alliance -- a great alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace,” Reagan said.
Each year, thousands descend on Normandy to pay homage to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who took part in D-Day, Operation Overlord and the Battle of Normandy.
Although thousands died on D-Day at Normandy, their sacrifices were not in vain.
During the next few issues of this newspaper, you’ll have the opportunity to read the account of D-Day by war correspondent Ernie Pyle.
His columns told the stories of the sacrifices those troops made -- an unprecedented and rarely duplicated account of what their lives meant.
On D-Day’s 75th anniversary this Thursday, pause to remember and reflect on their sacrifice. Then -- in person or in prayer -- give thanks for the freedom-preserving Greatest Generation.