“D-Day? Dunno.” the teen answered.
“Seriously? You’ve never heard of D-Day?”
I was stunned. How can a kid grow up in America, attend school in this country, watch Saving Private Ryan, and not know what D-Day is? There were no words coming through my mouth even though my patriotic zealot brain wanted to pitch a star-spangled hissy fit. How could she not know that on June 6th, 1944, the future of the world teetered on the Allies’ success at Normandy? The future of the world…her world!
It was the same feeling of incredulity I had in 1983 the day I heard James Watt, former secretary of the Interior under President Ronald Reagan, say he had never heard of the Beach Boys when he banned them from playing at the annual July 4th celebration in Washington, D.C. I thought he was kidding. I don’t even think it was possible to turn a radio on in the sixties and not hear the Beach Boys. They were everywhere. Even today, some thirty-plus years past their heyday, the Beach Boys are still American icons and they are still on the radio. How could he not know who they were?!
“Nope, never heard of D-Day,” she had said.
Well, have a seat. Allow me to introduce you to D-Day…the day U.S. and Allied forces invaded Europe at Normandy, inaugurating the ultimate battle to expel Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich from France during World War II. It was and still remains one of the most significant, and triumphant days in World War II. My son, Bryant, describes D-Day as, “The reminder that the success or failure of a civilization can be contingent upon one single event.” World War II was that war, and D-Day was that event in Europe.
Do we need to remember soldiers who lived long ago, facing enemies that no longer exist, fighting battles we’ve never even heard of? Does a soldier who died in 1944 need our attention on D-Day today? It’s not even one of the federal holidays, so how does it even impact any of us?
Well, what about other wars? Does a doughboy who fought in the Mexican-American War or World War I have any connection to those of us living in an entirely new millennium? How about other World War II soldiers, or the “forgotten war,” Korea; is there any good reason to bring our Korean War soldiers back up for review? What of Vietnam, the soul-searing war that continues to claim casualties thirty-seven years following the fall of Saigon? When so many just want to forget all war and its horror, is there any reason to remember? I believe there is.
Remember the Maine! Remember the Alamo, Remember Pearl Harbor, and of course, 9-11! Every generation has its “Alamo.” We have 9-11. Having suffered attack or assault, Americans invoke these battle cries whenever we need to assemble our troops for war. To fortify our resolve and prepare for the inevitable, we reach back into history hoping to draft on the courage of yesterday’s warriors as we face new challenges that lie ahead.
Recalling the sacrifices of soldiers and families still coping with those losses is reasonable and meaningful. These living patriots carry around the horrors of war and the pain of losing a loved one in battle. It is compassionate to recognize their suffering and honor their sacrifice. More challenging for those of us who have not paid that same price is to value that sacrifice once those directly affected have passed from this earth.
Sometimes I wake in the night thinking about a soldier from my state who may have died somewhere overseas that day. I may not know his name, but I know something about his heart. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” A soldier who dies in battle dies for someone else; either a buddy nearby or a nation far away, and my freedom rests on that love.
No, I might not even know the name, but whether that soldier died in 1779 or 2012 he didn’t know mine either. When America’s soldiers sharpened their bayonets, pulled on their flight suits, or laced up their combat boots, they didn’t even know I existed. Yet they fought their way through America’s wilderness, up from the beaches of Normandy, across the countries of Europe, and contended for the islands of the Pacific. America’s courageous soldiers battled through the unfamiliar terrain of Korea, sweltered in the jungles of Vietnam, barreled across the deserts of the Middle East during Desert Storm, fought house to house in Iraq and now, scale mountains in Afghanistan in their never-ending determination to bring peace.
This they did for my freedom. The cost of my liberty is their sacrifice – the price of that sacrifice; their blood. The blood of the soldier is my life, and it is precious. Their blood is worthy of my remembrance.
We are a nation that lives in the moment, but D-Day offers us one opportunity to step out of the present and reflect on how we arrived here. This day invokes the grief of unbearable suffering, but it also celebrates what’s best about America. It reaches back to recall bravery, self-sacrifice, courage under fire, valor, integrity, and heroism. Bryant believes that “only in retrospect are we able to contextualize the significance of the sacrifice.” My son is right. The further we get from D-Day, the more we should appreciate the magnitude of the Allies’ victory in Europe. In stopping to remember the past these courageous heroes have written, we can build a future worthy of their sacrifice.
So, if somebody ever says to me, “I’ve never heard of the Beach Boys,” I will invite them to return with me to France so that I might introduce them to America’s original “Beach” boys; the soldiers of Normandy – the heroes of D-Day.
Then one by one, beach by beach, we’ll Google: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches. The events of D-Day will unfold before us like a long-forgotten treasure map pointing us to the original “band” of brothers. They might not have been physically related, or able to play the guitar and drums, but I can assure you, the “Beach Boys” of June 6, 1944, made some serious noise that day! One can’t help but hear the reverberation now sixty-five years later. They raised such a battle cry for freedom that day, my ears are still ringing!
Yes, D-Day matters…and I’m grateful.
© Copyright, 2009 by Donna Tallman.