2002-06-05 / Editorials


Lessons Of D-Day Still Remain

Fifty-eight years ago tomorrow after the greatest buildup of American men and materiel in military history, Allied forces crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy in France. It was D-Day—June 6, 1944—and the battle to take back Europe from the Axis Powers had begun.

The invasion was a success, in that a foothold was established on the continent of Europe and the Nazi defenses had been breached. Like just about every other element of life on this planet, however, success carried a price tag. At Omaha Beach, 40,000 men landed in the first wave. By nightfall, one out of every 19 had become a casualty. Every man aboard some LSTs died without getting off their landing craft, so heavy was the enemy fire. Tank crews drowned when their tanks were unloaded in 20 feet of water. Paratroopers jumped from their planes into withering ground fire from which there was no escape.

Despite the odds against them, the Allied forces pushed on. Fighting in Europe continued for almost an entire year, but on May 7, 1945 V-E (Victory In Europe) Day was celebrated and America turned its undivided attention on the war in the Pacific. The costliest war in history came to its ultimate close in August 1945.

The young soldiers who fought in Normandy are old men now. The enemy they escaped 58 years ago is coming for them, as it does inevitably for us all—at least 150,000 die every year. Their achievements and their memories are forgotten by more and more succeeding generations. Today the names of the people who fought and of the places they struggled and died to defend or take back are nearly forgotten.

Nearly forgotten, too, is the fact that World War II was won on the home front as well. The America that sent its young soldiers to Normandy was united behind the war effort to a degree that would astonish succeeding generations. The entire 1941 lineup of the New York Yankees baseball team was in military uniform. Nearly every home on every block in every town and city across the country displayed an emblem with a blue star indicating that one or more of the men in a family was serving in some branch of the military. Millions of women, too, fought in their own way, working in factories engaged in manufacturing the tools of war.

Today we are caught in the grip of another war. Instead of on a beach 3,000 miles from our coastline, the battle is being waged on our doorstep. Our enemies have made incursions onto our territory and we may reasonably expect more of the same. We feel it is, therefore, fitting on this, the eve of the 58th anniversary of D-Day, to remember that obstacles, no matter how fearsome, can be faced and overcome, especially if the fighting forces on the front lines are backed by the support of their civilian counterparts, who also serve in their own way. The Allied armies who came ashore that misty June morning learned that lesson and have passed it on to us, if only we will pay heed.

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