In the United States, June 6, 1944 will receive passing mention on news programs and social channels. There are few, if any, parades or official remembrances. Even those veterans who fought across the beaches and on to Berlin will receive scant recognition for what they did to liberate a continent and preserve the blessings of freedom for those who would follow.
In Normandy, they have not forgotten. They have not forgotten the Nazi occupation nor those who came ashore and dropped from the heavens 78 years ago. There are parades, remembrances, reenactments, parachute drops, and fireworks. The entire region, thousands of people, come out to welcome these heroes of the WW II generation, hug them, kiss them, ask them for photographs and autographs, and listen to their stories, stories they remember as if D-Day were yesterday.
But D-Day was not yesterday. It was 78 years ago. Those who fought there are creeping up on a century of life; some have passed that milestone. Soon they will walk among us no longer, their legacy honored by some, unappreciated by others, forgotten by too many.
The people of Normandy remember what it was like to be invaded and oppressed. And they remember what it was like to be liberated. They pass along the stories and the appreciation. What these men did on June 6, 1944, and in the months that followed will not be forgotten here. It is a privilege to spend time with them on the beaches, fields, and towns in which they fought.
As I push Walter Stowe through the Brittany American Cemetery in his wheelchair, he reminds me that in life we will touch a great many people. The question, he says, is will the people whose lives we touch be the better for it? Wise words.
Remember these citizen soldiers today and every day. Spend time with them at every opportunity. Listen to their stories. Embrace their wisdom. And when the last of them walks among us no longer, honor their sacrifice by standing strong for the freedoms for which they fought.
Read it all and watch President Reagan’s speech from 1984.