There is little to say or write about D-Day that hasn’t already been expressed over the past seventy years by those more eloquent than me, or especially by those who took part in the greatest invasion in human history, and for the noblest purpose. Some events challenge not just the imagination, but even language itself. Seventy years ago, the assault on the beaches of Normandy by the free men of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and units from the countries occupied by the Nazi horror remains perhaps the most stunning act of determination and defiance in history, as 160,000 men stormed Fortress Europe and sent evil reeling — thousands of whom would die that day for freedom.
General Dwight David Eisenhower sent them to Normandy with this message:
The US Army has this remembrance from the men who lived to tell the stories of D-Day and its triumph over tyranny:
Not too many of these men are with us today. We have lost many to time, and only a handful are on hand to recall for us the bravery, horror, and need of that day, and the price we must pay for our continued blessings of freedom. Wisconsin’s WBAY interviewed Bob Reeners, who had not quite reached his 20th birthday on D-Day, recalls the horror of that day and the memories of those who died to overcome the massive tyranny that had enslaved a continent:
“There was an invasion fleet. It looked like you could have walked all the way back to England and never gotten wet. There also was a black cloud approaching from England, and as it got closer it wasn’t a cloud at all; it was aircraft of all kinds, hundreds of them,” recalls Reeners.
Within seconds of reaching shore, Reeners says the beach erupted in gunfire and explosions from U.S. planes overhead and German troops on land.
“I don’t know how the hell anything withstood the bombardment that beach took. It was shelled. It was bombed.
Reeners’s crew spent the day stocking the beach with ammo and equipment.
At one point, a lone German fighter plane zeroed in.
“There we were, naked as a jay bird, strafing the beach, no cover. You hit the sand and you hear those damn bullets just pounding all around you. When it’s all over you, you can’t believe it,” says Reeners. …
More than 9,000 Americans were killed or wounded.
With tears in his eyes, Reeners says, “As a survivor you think of all those men, cut down in the prime of their life. It tears my heart out, here I am 90 years old almost, living a rich full life, these men were denied that, they fought and lost, everything.”
They certainly gave everything they had — so that we might live free, and not just in Europe but in America as well. Many of them gave their lives for a freedom to which they knew they might never return, but those men gave us that precious gift. May we remember them, and the men who survived and kept fighting and then returned home to build their lives and families too. We owe them a debt that can only barely be imagined, but can be repaid with constant vigilance and dedication to the cause for which they fought.
Update: Because it’s always worth watching, here is Ronald Reagan’s address at Normandy 30 years ago: