Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of "Operation Overlord" commonly known as "D-Day."
Bedford Va. is home to the National D-Day Memorial and tomorrow a huge gala is planned including a flyover of every plane used in that incredible operation. This week I've been seeing some of them in the skies overhead, I guess practicing for the big events tomorrow.
All this week on the news they have been discussing it. Today, I got pretty emotional thinking about it. Thinking about what June 5th 1944 must have felt like for those guys. Most of them were around 19 years old. They were still kids. I remember when I was 19 and all I wanted to do was cruise Newark De in my Chevelle and hang with my buddies and go to work each day. I never went to sleep, knowing that the following morning there was a nine in ten chance I would die.
How could they sleep that night, knowing that in the morning, they faced insurmountable odds? What kind of letters home did they write? What kind of prayers were prayed? What did it feel like to hear the roar of the machine gun fire and the clank of the rounds hitting the drop gate of the Higgins boat and pretty much assume you were going to die? What was it like stepping over your dead comrades as you dove into the water and made for shore, wondering when the bullet with your name on it was coming? What sort of madness did they see? The sound of gunfire, the explosion of ordnance and shrieks of the wounded. These were just boys. Just out of high school and in many cases having quit school and lied about their age to join.
I just can't get the thoughts out of my head. The incredible bravery in the face of unspeakable horror. The desire to defeat evil. A desire so strong that you'd charge into the butchery of Omaha, or Utah, or Gold, or Juno, or Sword.
The only person I ever saw die was my grandmother at 93. It was amazing and beautiful as she literally reached out to Jesus as He came to take her. (It's an amazing story I will share one day) I can't fathom seeing my friend, or my brother die suddenly and violently beside me. And having to stuff that horror down inside me and press on.
Years ago, in Nashville, I met a man who was 82nd Airborne on that day. He was climbing up the rope ladders they shot up the cliffs at Normandy. Climbing to reach the gunnery nests at the top. He told me that about every 30 seconds, another of his comrades would fall from above him and he'd have to spin himself around and get on the inside of those rope ladders and press himself against the cliff to avoid being hit by the body. Sometimes they were dead already and sometimes they were screaming as they fell. He had to swallow all that and get right back to climbing.
They did all this because there was an undeniable evil at work in the world, and the time had come to put it down. At this point, nobody knew about the prison camps and the ovens and the "Final Solution." That horror was still to be discovered. This mission was about stopping Hitler.
These men ran face-first into hell and punched death in the mouth because it was right, and doing what was right demanded their very lives. 9 out of 10 of the first wave never made it off the beach.
Nine out of Ten.
For me, and for my generation, this is some of what the flag represents. It's why you stand and respect it. America is not perfect. It was probably even less perfect on June 6, 1944. But they didn't fight for a perfect country. They fought for THIS one. They fought for what was right and they did it under that flag.
Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary. 25 years from now, when we memorialize this day again, there won't be one single survivor in attendance to tell us stories of the horror, the battle, or then sense of right that made them rush out the door of those landing craft. They will all have joined their fallen comrades and become ghosts on the beachfront, and names on marble headstones in places like Arlington and Point du Hoc, and Normandy. I have wiped tears from my eyes at various points this week and I've choked back this lump in my throat more times than I can count.
In another few years none of them will be left to thank. None of them will be around to tell the stories and remember the guy in the boat next to him.
That's why we stand for the flag and the anthem...because we owe those guys and all the other guys like them from every war we've ever fought. Because if they'd die for the sake of that flag, the least I can do is stand for it.
And if they'd run out of a boat into a hail of gunfire for the sake of what is right...I have no excuses for not defending what is right in the safety and comfort of this country.
If you have a relative who fought in WWII (or any war,) please...tell them I send my eternal gratitude and love.
God Bless the 4400 who died that day
and God Bless America.