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WOSTER: June 6, 1944; A day history was made

General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the order for the D-Day assault on the beaches of Normandy the northern coast of France when I was 5 months old. The invasion began on June 6, 1944. That's 75 years from tomorrow. The fighting that followed cost ...

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the order for the D-Day assault on the beaches of Normandy the northern coast of France when I was 5 months old.

The invasion began on June 6, 1944. That's 75 years from tomorrow. The fighting that followed cost thousands of lives but marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany's war machine.

I was a baby then. Many of the Allied forces were - if not babies - then little more than boys. Although some were in their 20s and older, many were teens. They should have been celebrating high-school graduation, maybe, or unpacking their belongings for a summer home after a year of college. Instead, they were across the Atlantic Ocean fighting to save the world.

Because it's the 75th anniversary of D-Day, more attention is being paid to the date than is sometimes the case. That's altogether fitting. Most of the young people who slogged through the rough water onto the beaches and through heavy enemy gunfire across those beaches and up the bluffs have died. The ones who remain are dying every day. Before they pass on, they deserve to be remembered again for their effort and sacrifice.

Eisenhower was the top commander of the Allied effort. I've been reading quotes and speeches attributed to him regarding the Normandy landings. One that particularly struck me is this:

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"This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that's the way it's going to be. We're doing down there, and we're throwing everything we have into it, and we're going to make it a success.''

For the American, Canadian and British troops involved in the landing, failure was not an option. The invasion came almost exactly four years to the day after 340,000 British and French soldiers had been evacuated from Dunkirk, where they had been trapped by the advancing German army and were being slowly slaughtered or pushed into the sea.

The success in rescuing so many trapped fighters buoyed spirits in England, although Winston Churchill told his people in June of 1940 that "wars are not won by evacuations.'' In the same speech, Churchill rallied the people with his stirring promise to fight on the beaches and landing grounds and fields and streets and hills, ending with "We will never surrender.''

It took four years, but the Allied troops returned to France in a military action known as D-Day, a campaign essential to the future of free people. Former President Barack Obama assessed it this way: "It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide.''

I still remember a column by Michael Reagan, the former president's son, in which he told of golfing in California with a group of young people and telling them he was about to travel to France to visit the American cemetery there. Puzzled, they wondered why an American cemetery existed at Normandy.

The D-Day landing has been the subject of numerous movies. "Saving Private Ryan'' opens with scenes of the landing and the fighting, some so intense it's difficult to imagine soldiers surviving to reach the bluffs and move across the French countryside.

One of my favorite war movies always will be "The Longest Day,'' a telling of the D-Day invasion. John Wayne, Peter Lawford, Red Buttons, Richard Burton, Sean Connery and a host of other film stars or future stars were on the screen. I found the movie haunting and compelling.

I find these words by former French President Francois Hollande to be moving, as well:

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"The 6th June is not a day like others: it is not just the longest day or a day to remember the dead, but a day for the living to keep the promise written with the blood of the fighters, to be loyal to their sacrifice by building a world that is fairer and more human."

Perhaps we could best observe the 75th anniversary of D-Day by re-dedicating ourselves to building that fairer, more human world.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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