Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. June 6, 1944, a momentous day, was the culmination of Operation Overlord, a long-planned operation to liberate Europe from the Nazi scourge that Hitler and his regime had spawned. The massive operation required troops to depart from the coast of England and land on the beaches of Normandy in France. It was part of the long, bloody process of reclaiming the continent of Europe and finally putting an end to World War II. It would succeed; but in those difficult first hours, no one could know. The Supreme Allied commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, had done all he could to prepare for this moment; he had tears in his eyes after he met with some of the troops who were about to be deployed. All he could do then was wait anxiously for the dispatches, stare at the skies, and incessantly smoke the cigarettes that would one day end his life.
It is staggering to recall the actual numbers involved in this effort: 4,000 ships, 11,000 planes, 3 million soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors. All told, 155,000 Allied troops went ashore that day to reclaim 80 square miles of French territory. When it was over, 4,900 American troops had been killed.
D-Day is fast receding into the pages of history; there are not many left today who actually served in that engagement and in that war. “Time marches on,” and one day, there will be a commemoration of the 100th anniversary and by that time, only recorded memory will be left. But today, we must pause and think about the bravery and sacrifice, nobility and aspirations of all those young men (some were boys, really) who answered an unbelievable call. Many of those soldiers, with hopes for the future, went out toward a terrible fate that was theirs in order to ensure the present that is ours.
Today is a time for prayer and remembrance; it is particularly a time to put aside partisanship and discord. Flowers and wreaths will be laid at soldiers’ graves, services will be held where the mournful—and strangely hopeful—strains of hymns like Eternal Father, Strong to Save will be heard. And relatives (many of whom who weren’t even born then) will bring out the photograph albums and do nothing but just stare in awe. And for those of us who have no connection with that time—and with that day—all we can be is grateful.
On this day words—written and spoken—are simply inadequate. Perhaps it is best to just be in the presence of silence. And, look up toward the skies.