Seventy-five Years Ago Today

Today is the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, the day that Americans, Canadians, and British soldiers combined resources and efforts to stop the advance of tyranny and genocide across Europe.

This is the speech President Reagan gave on June 6, 1984, to commemorate those who fought bravely on that day:

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For 4 long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers — the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your “lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.”

I think I know what you may be thinking right now — thinking “we were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.” Well, everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him.

Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, “Sorry I’m a few minutes late,” as if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.

There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.

All of these men were part of a rollcall of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers.

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought — or felt in their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.

Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.

When the war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt a new Europe together.

There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall plan led to the Atlantic alliance — a great alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace.

In spite of our great efforts and successes, not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They’re still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war. Because of this, allied forces still stand on this continent. Today, as 40 years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose — to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.

We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.

But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.

It’s fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the Earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.

We will pray forever that some day that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.

We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We’re bound by reality. The strength of America’s allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe’s democracies. We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.

Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

President Ronald Reagan – June 6, 1984

Many of us have fathers or grandfathers who fought in France that day. We are grateful for their bravery and for their clarity of purpose. They understood that there was evil in the world and they sought to defeat it. We need that clarity today.

June 6, 1944

D Day is something we read about in our history books.  I am not sure (until “Saving Private Ryan” was released) that any civilian understood how difficult and awful that invasion was.  As we remember those events today, we need to understand that victory on D Day was not a given.  We owe our freedom in America to those who stormed the beaches that day.  There was a letter written by General Eisenhower in case it failed.  This is what the free republic website says about that letter:

On the afternoon of July 11, 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower came across a forgotten note tucked inside his wallet. He called in his naval aide, Capt. Harry C. Butcher, who, taking the paper, read:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

It was dated, in Ike’s hand, July 5. Butcher knew it had to have been — and was — written June 5, when “Bravery and devotion” might yet fail the Allies on Normandy’s beaches.

That July afternoon was D plus 35. On June 6, D-Day, the largest armada in history had crossed the English Channel, landing nine divisions of sea and airborne troops in a sweeping assault upon Nazi-occupied France that put the Allies on the road to victory.

Eisenhower penned such notes on the eves of other amphibious operations, secretly tearing each one up afterward. “I told him I wanted it,” Butcher would later recall. Ike gave in, reluctantly.

The sheet of beige paper — at 41/2 by 7 inches, it looks as if it came from a notepad — is brittle and fragile, like many of the once strapping young men who advanced through surf and bullets, each carrying 75 pounds of equipment. The paper doesn’t carry the letterhead of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, which Eisenhower was. It’s cheaply made. The four sentences on it are written in pencil, and were composed on a portable table.

Archivists at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library & Museum in Abilene, Kan., call it the “In Case of Failure” message. It’s safeguarded in an acid-free folder in the security vault there, a veteran, too, of dark days when freedom hung in the balance.

 The gift of freedom is not free.  If you see a member of the military today, say thank you.

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Found On Facebook

Patriot Graves

Of all the dangers facing our country, perhaps the greatest danger of all is the one that still doesn’t make many headlines — our collective national amnesia. Our history textbooks are sanitized to be politically correct and give our children little sense of the greatness of the nation they live in. The Founders are seldom mentioned unless it is part of a controversy about slavery or some other scandal.

I am often struck by how often decent American kids have nothing good to say about their own country. Their knowledge of the sacrifices made to establish and preserve their freedom is virtually non-existent. They are the recipients of the greatest freedom and opportunity that any society has ever produced, yet they are unaware of the price in flesh and blood that was paid for it.

At my father’s table, I learned love of country in a way that only a Marine could teach it. Dad taught me that patriotism wasn’t a theory — it was flesh and blood, real sacrifice and pain. You are your children’s most important teacher. They are listening.

This weekend, as we celebrate Memorial Day, tell your children about the sacrifices that had to be made to stop the march of fascism and the cancer of communism. Tell them about the beaches of Normandy and the Bataan Death March. Tell them about why there was a Berlin Wall and how free men brought it down.

Remind them about 9/11, what happened at the Pentagon and over the fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Take just a minute in the next three days to teach them to love the things we love and honor the things we honor.

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A Welcome Perspective

English: "aerial view of Omaha Beach, Nor...

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Today the North County Times posted a very thoughtful editorial by Susan Estrich. The editorial deals with her recent trip to France that included Normandy. She talks about the driver who drove her out to Normandy. He commented that he felt France had been wise to stay out of the war. He felt that it was unfair that Marshal Petain was prosecuted for treason after the war because he made peace with Hitler. When asked about the Jews, the driver said he didn’t know.

Ms. Estrich reminds us:

There were many righteous men and women in France who tried to save their Jewish countrymen and -women. Clearly, that did not include my driver’s family. Nor the Vichy government. All told, 76,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps in France. Refugees were among the first to be rounded up. Pity those who thought they would find refuge from Hitler in France. They were as much in the dark as I was. They paid with their lives. All but 2,500 of those sent to the camps in France died.

Ms. Estrich then points out that because it was January, most of the places she wanted to visit near Normandy were closed, but the American cemetery and the small museum next to it were open. She then comments on the beauty of Omaha Beach, reminding us that it was not beautiful on June 6, 1944.

She tells us:

Omaha Beach is quiet. Even on a rainy day, it is beautiful. But it was not beautiful on D-Day. The ocean was dyed red with the blood of brave Americans who waded from their boats into enemy fire —- kids who gave their lives to save each other, to liberate the French, to defeat evil.

On that day, as the tape in the museum says, they carried the fate of the free world —- “the entire free world” —- on their young shoulders.

They saved the world.

My father was one of the people who landed on the shores of France on June 6, 1944. He was one of the lucky ones who landed on Utah Beach instead of Normandy Beach. He was one of the lucky ones who came home safely. His generation paid a tremendous price so that Europe and America would remain free.

Ms. Estrich concludes:

My friend Annie was the one who told me to go to Normandy. She is the child of survivors, born in Munich after the war. She said that standing in that cemetery, she was overcome with pride to be an immigrant to this country.

For all our problems, we are still the luckiest people on the face of the globe. And one of the reasons for that is because of those young soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom —- and for the freedom of people like my driver and his family. He may not know enough to appreciate that. But I do. God bless America.

Sometimes it is good to reflect on the challenges and accomplishments of the American past. I feel that some day in the future we may be called to meet similar challenges. I hope we are still up to the task.

 

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