June 6, 1944. Frankly, that is a date all Americans should recognize – and its significance should not be forgotten. On that day a massive army of American, British and Canadian soldiers crossed the English Channel and landed in Normandy, commencing the liberation of Western Europe. Especially for Americans, it was a bloody day. Over 2500 were killed and many more wounded.
Omaha Beach was especially tough. The battle was touch and go, but we prevailed. The cost, however, was great. One of the units that landed on Omaha Beach was an infantry company made up mostly of soldiers from Bedford, Virginia, a small town about 120 miles southwest of Richmond. It was a National Guard unit that had been mobilized in the months before we entered the war. For over three years they trained for this mission. On D Day, nineteen soldiers from Bedford were killed. In the days following, more died. The impact on that small community is hard for us to grasp. No family was untouched.
When my son was a senior in high school, I went to Normandy with a group from his school. Omaha Beach was scenic and peaceful. Even the ruins of the massive defenses the Germans had constructed provided a certain beauty. But standing on the beach looking at the tall bluffs which confronted those soldiers on D Day made me shudder. Essentially, they confronted an almost sheer cliff, bristling with enemy soldiers shooting down at them. That any survived was a wonder. That they got past those defenses and at the end of the day prevailed was just astounding.
The veterans of World War II are almost gone. The youngest survivors of D Day would be in their mid-90's now. The connection to that era is fading rapidly. When I was a boy, the vast majority of my friends’ fathers had served in the war. For my children, hardly any of the parents of their friends had any military service at all. Our society suffers for the loss of that link.
D Day is a reminder of the sacrifices that others have made so that we can enjoy freedom and prosperity. Don’t forget the soldiers, sailors and airmen who gave that to us.